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Islanders: Three+ Takeaways After Coming Up Just Short vs. Philadelphia

UNIONDALE, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 27: Brock Nelson #29 of the New York Islanders skates in warm-ups prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Nassau Coliseum on February 27, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
UNIONDALE, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 27: Brock Nelson #29 of the New York Islanders skates in warm-ups prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Nassau Coliseum on February 27, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Islanders
Nick Leddy #2 of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

3. Nick Leddy’s Resurgence As a Top-Four Defenseman

I said in the last slide that I had little faith in the kind of return to form it would’ve taken for Nick Leddy to bounce back and fill the void left by Devon Toews on the Islanders top-four D pair. However, he’s done exactly that, once again proving that my takes are quite literally never the correct ones.

In truth, I can’t even really diagnose what it is that has precipitated this sudden resurgence in Leddy’s once declining career. Was Johnny Boychuk cooked enough to have really been that much of an anchor on Leddy’s on-ice performance in the last few years? I don’t think that’s entirely it, but it certainly could’ve been a factor.

In 2014-15, Leddy was undoubtedly this team’s number one defenseman, playing tough minutes against top competition for a contending Islanders team. But since then it had been a steep drop in production and subsequent value.

2019-20 looked like Leddy may return to form early in the season. He posted 17 points in his first 35 games, and though his possession metrics weren’t great, they weren’t relatively abysmal compared to his 19-20 Islanders defense colleagues. Then the second-half of 2019-20 came and his numbers took another steep decline.

With all that said, Leddy is this team’s third-best defenseman right now. What never left him was puck-transporting abilities, those are still there in spades. But he’s doing more with those excellent up-ice rushing abilities now than he had in previous seasons.

Leddy has 20 assists in 2020-21 after Thursday, good for a third-place tie in assists among NHL defensemen as I write this, and that’s with a team shooting percentage of 9.68% while Leddy is on the ice.

He also has a 52.82% xGF%, good for third among Islanders defensemen when adjusted for score and venue, also according to Natural Stat Trick. Leddy is genuinely playing much better hockey than at any point in the last four seasons at least, and I’d say this season he’s been better than the 2015-16 version of himself.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

– Speaking of defense, the Islanders could use a bit of depth there, and the last couple games have been evidence enough for it.

Noah Dobson’s absence due to his placement on the NHL’s COVID protocol list has necessitated the use of Sebastian Aho to step into a role on the back-end. After not seeing NHL action for three years and having his season in AHL Bridgeport cut short last season, Aho has been understandably rusty. The problem is the Islanders really can’t afford that right now.

The Aho and Andy Greene pairing was a disaster on Thursday. That pair were caved in for most of the night, and the Islanders were outdone in shot attempts 20-9 when Aho was on the ice at 5v5.

I’m not putting that all on Aho either. Greene has been noticeably poor to me and other fans this season, and the Islanders bottom pair has struggled because of it.

For a team who relies upon building their game from a staunch, unwavering defensive guard, the Islanders simply can’t have this. They’ll need to allocate some of Anders Lee’s $7 million LTIR relief to acquiring a cheap, reliable seventh defenseman.

– Of all the many Islanders who deserve blame for the team’s poor form in the first 45 minutes of Thursday’s game, Semyon Varlamov is not among them. Varly’s game was very strong against the Flyers, and outside of a few bad starts this season, it has been consistently good in 2020-21.

Despite that, there are still a segment of fans who have questioned Varlamov throughout his time here. That same group of fans often clamor on about how much better things might be had the Islanders kept Robin Lehner after 2018-19. I liked Lehner as an Islander much as anyone, but my goodness, that is a tired scenario at this point.

Varlamov has been fine, in fact, he’s been better than fine. He’s been really good in 2020-21. So much so that NHL.com writers actually acknowledged it via their mid-season awards voting, that’s something even the phenomenal seasons of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock couldn’t do. While I’m not sure Varly has been good enough for a Vezina nomination, he’s more than good enough to win with. Please stop with this narrative.

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