Yes, it happened. And in the Barry Trotz era nonetheless. For a 21 game period during the 2020-21 season, the New York Islanders had a devastatingly efficient power play. Again, yes it actually happened.
From the start of the 2020-21 season on January 14 through to game number 21 on February 28th, the Islanders scored 15 power-play goals on 60 opportunities. That’s a 25% efficiency. That wasn’t league-leading at the time, but it was good enough for 12th in the NHL.
Which, for the Islanders, is “devastatingly efficient”. Since 2018-19 they’ve averaged a 16.9% efficiency, ranking their power play 26th in the NHL. Which is, you know, not good at all.
So what happened over that 21 game period last year? Who was playing on the power play and how were they used?
New York Islanders: Remembering when their power play was good
To figure out who was playing on the PP, I started with looking at PPTOI. Here are the top forwards and top defensemen for the Isles in that specific period of time:
But honestly, that doesn’t do the Islanders PP proficiency in that period any justice because the most prolific players in that period were some of the least used.
I tracked all 15 goals on the power play from Jan 14 to Feb 28, 2021. I tweet out the unit that was on the ice for each of those 15 goals and where everyone was positioned leading up to the goal. And, well, the unit of Nick Leddy, Oliver Wahlstrom, Josh Bailey, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Brock Nelson was easily the better group.
Now consider how effective that group was outside of just “being on the ice when the goal was scored” as my tweeted table captures. This group generated goals and opportunities because they shot more and got pucks on the net more.
Here’s how the Nelson group compares to the Barzal group from this 21 game sample last year in a number of metrics (thank you NaturalStatTrick). It’s not even close how good the Nelson group was. They generate more shots, more quality shots, and converted more frequently. They were just better in every aspect of the power play. And it wasn’t even close.
*Stats all on the PP and per 60
**SF= Shots For, SCF= Scoring chances for, HDCF= High-Danger Chances For, OIS%=On Ice Shot%, xGF= expected Goals For, GF=Goals For
Ok, Now What?
Obviously, the Islanders can’t just throw out Nick Leddy on the PP more often. But they sure can put out a group of Oliver Wahlstrom, Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau as their four forwards. But for some reason those players rank pretty low for PP TOI this season:
- Wahlstrom: 22:48 (6th)
- Bailey: 26:40 (2nd)
- Nelson: 22:03 (7th)
- Pageau: 7:58 (9th)
That last one (Pageau) is a surprise. Pageau was very effective as that bumper/roamer in the slot for the Islanders power play. He’s also quite effective when it comes to retrieving the puck from dump-ins. A strategy the Islanders should consider using more often on the PP.
As the Isles try to find some success on the power play, perhaps returning to something that clearly worked earlier this calendar year is probably a good idea. We’ll see if Barry Trotz and PP coach Jim Hiller agree.