2. Quantity vs Quality – The Islanders Shifting Style of Play in 2020-21
The New York Islanders had to play the role of the opportunist on Saturday by scoring on the chances they had through 40 minutes. They did so, and in the end that was enough to force overtime and the shootout, where they controlled the run of play at 3v3 before a Mat Barzal shootout-winning goal.
The Islanders aren’t unfamiliar with being an opportunistic-style team that scores off of relatively few chances. Their offensive zone philosophy under Barry Trotz, as previously stated, has always revolved around creating dangerous chances off the cycle and forecheck.
That style of relying on smaller chance numbers and capitalizing on them has worked for them in the past, but it’s not really the style they’ve played in 2020-21. By that, I mean the Islanders have actually managed to become a very strong possession team in the current season, something that was missing from their 2018-19 and 2019-20 regular season runs.
The Islanders in 2020-21 boast the 12th-best 5v5 FF%, at 50.4%. Their 5v5 xGF% is 54.04, good for the 4th-best league-wide. They take home 52.48% of scoring chances, and 60.36% of high-danger chances, which ranks 7th and 1st respectively across the NHL. Those rankings all jumped at least fifteen spots from 2019-20.
So what does that mean? Well, it’s indicative of an Islanders team whose philosophy on attacking has changed. They’re not the opportunists anymore, at least not every night. No, the 2020-21 Islanders are a strong 5v5 possession-driving team who create chances off of a brutally effective forecheck and good passing and puck retrieval off the cycle.
It’s the reason why the Islanders have gained a lot more attention from the national media lately. They’re not the team who is out-performing their metrics, their success is not being deemed unsustainable anymore, and it’s because of this shifting style of play.
Mind you, if you go check the Islanders team stats from the 2020 bubble on Natural Stat Trick, you’ll find that their team-wide metrics in all these areas were already trending towards where we see them now. That’s the kind of performance the Islanders needed to prove they could carry throughout a regular season, no matter how odd that regular season may be, and so far they’ve done so.
Saturday wasn’t a great example of that style of play. As previously stated, the Islanders were out-possessed, out-shot, and out-chanced against Philly. But they found a way to win, which is most important, and they did so with 11 forwards available to them after Ross Johnston’s injury.