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Islanders: Three Takeaways from Stunning Game Five Win over Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - MAY 24: Ilya Sorokin #30 of the New York Islanders makes a save against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first overtime period in Game Five of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 24, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - MAY 24: Ilya Sorokin #30 of the New York Islanders makes a save against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first overtime period in Game Five of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 24, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
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New York Islanders
Brock Nelson #29 of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

2. The Islanders were Poor Throughout Regulation

It’s really, really unlikely that a team deserved to win less than the Islanders did on Monday, and thanks to Sorokin whether or not they deserved to win has become irrelevant. But, that doesn’t mean we should gloss over or ignore the fact that the Islanders just didn’t bring their best in game five.

As I do for most Islanders games, I popped open Natural Stat Trick Monday night between the first, second, and third periods to check the team’s game five stats. They weren’t good.

The numbers said that the Islanders played a decent first period, but mostly got the short end of the stick. That aligned with my eye test, as I thought New York was mostly outworked in the first outside of Anthony Beauvillier’s awesome solo effort goal and the 55 seconds that followed.

In the second and third, their numbers were downright awful. The Islanders collected less than 30% of unblocked shot attempts, scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances, and xG in the final two periods of regulation.

Again, that was corroborated by my eye test, as the Islanders failed to generate anything offensively and found themselves frequently pinned back in their own zone just attempting to defend and clear the zone for a line change.

That seemed to be the story for most of the night. Defend, attempt a zone exit, fail, defend some more, clear the zone, gain the red line, dump, and change, repeat. It was agonizing to watch as a fan of the team wearing blue and orange.

During the regular season, the Islanders generated roughly 5.6 shots off the rush per 60 minutes, according to Corey Sznajder’s data tracking. The only teams who generated fewer per 60 shots off the rush this season were Philadelphia, Arizona, Nashville, Calgary, Anaheim, and Detroit.

Now, in the case of the Islanders and Coyotes, that low rate of shots off the rush is likely in part due to systemic preferences. Simply put, those teams prefer to gain the zone, cycle, and forecheck, rather than shoot off a zone entry.

But the Penguins diced the Islanders forecheck to bits in game five.

The Islanders rush their F1 and F2 forwards, the first two forwards to enter the offensive zone, to pressure the puck below the goal line in their standard forecheck. The F3 hangs above the dots to backcheck, provide pressure on an attempted opposition breakout, or find a loose puck.

By dragging three of their own players low, Pittsburgh was able to outnumber the Islander forecheckers there and create passing lanes to each other from which they alleviated pressure and created clean zone exits. It didn’t always work, as we saw on Jordan Eberle’s third period goal, but it did for most of the 60 minutes of regulation.

The Islanders need to find a counter to this. Their forecheck was mostly ineffective for 60 minutes on Monday night, and for a team that generates a lot of its offense from forechecking and cycling, that is a recipe for disaster going forward, even beyond this series should they make it there.

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