3 reasons the NY Islanders defense deserves more credit for recent resurgence

The Isles' defensemen have been playing all-star caliber hockey during their 6-game winning streak.

New York Islanders v Dallas Stars
New York Islanders v Dallas Stars / Sam Hodde/GettyImages
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The NY Islanders are the hottest team in the National Hockey League. They have now won six games in a row which is their longest winning streak since the team won nine straight in March of 2022. This latest resurgence has propelled the Islanders from a team with no clear direction to a playoff contender. Last night's victory against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center meant more to the team than just a regular win in California. This victory ensured the Islanders a tie for the second wild-card spot with the Detroit Red Wings. The Isles are also just 2 points behind the top wild-card Tampa Bay Lightning and third-place Philadelphia Flyers in the Metropolitan Division.

To say the Islanders have completely turned their season around is an understatement. The offense has had its most dominant stretch in years, scoring 30 goals in the last 6 games. The first line is finally a goal-scoring unit across all three positions while the third line has found some production. Even though all of the attention has been placed on the forwards, the Isles' most impressive turnaround is its performance from the defensemen. The following statistics under head coach Patrick Roy's '2-on-1' system are starch in comparison to the days of Lane Lambert standing behind the bench.

4 goals and 16 assists (20 points) in the last 6 games.

Aside from just one defenseman, every player has improved some aspect of their game since Roy has taken over. The one exception of course is Noah Dobson, who was already in the midst of a breakout season. To summarize his performance, Dobson has been a consistent point machine having 56 through 63 games. Regardless of an increase in time on ice due to injuries, a new defensive partner, or a different coaching staff, Dobson has been the most valuable Islander in 2023-24.

However, Dobson is not the only defenseman who has contributed on offense in recent games. Sebastian Aho, Ryan Pulock, and Alexander Romanov have all scored goals across this winning streak. The combination of Aho and Mike Reilly have combined for 13 shots on goal, more chances than we could have expected from a bottom pairing. Adam Pelech has also returned to his all-star form, recording 4 assists in the last 5 games.

Less than 30 shots on goal in the last 5 games.

When looking at box scores from teams around the NHL, the goaltending statistics are always one to look at. This stat line essentially tells the story of how well a goalie performed in conjunction with how much they were asked to do. In representation, the line reads 'saves, save opportunities, and save percentage'.

As Islanders fans, we have become accustomed to seeing Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov have the number '40' typed in under save opportunities, meaning the opposition had 40 shots on goal. Under Lambert, the defensemen were being asked to focus more on offense and playback in front of the net. This style of defense gives more opportunity for the opposition to set up in the offensive zone and create a great shot attempt. Thus, the Islanders goaltenders were essentially hung out to dry.

Under Roy's '2-on-1' system, the Islanders defensemen have been more proactive as the opposition crosses the blue line. They have begun forechecking in the neutral zone, which slows the opportunity and an odd-man rush. As the puck crosses into the defensive zone, the defensemen are going directly after the puck instead of waiting for a shot to come near the crease. This system prohibits the opposition a chance at setting up a clean scoring opportunity, which has in turn protected Sorokin and Varlamov from having to make 40 saves to win a game.

65 blocked shots in the last 6 games.

The '2-on-1' system instituted by Roy is not only designed to prohibit puck movement across the blue line. In every hockey game, both teams will find a scoring opportunity no matter how aggressive the defense is in the neutral zone. The goaltender will have to make saves at some point with the desire to limit breakaway and odd-man rush advantages. To state the obvious, no team will ever play 82 games without scoring a goal or giving one up past the red line.

Feb 26, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Alexander Romanov (28) checks Dallas
Feb 26, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Alexander Romanov (28) checks Dallas / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In best preventing the puck from even reaching the goaltender, the forwards, and defensemen are asked to block passes and shots from the blue line. Regardless of the name on the back of a jersey or the importance to the team, hockey players will take a beating to protect their goaltenders. After blocking a 95 MPH shot, the player is right back on the ice. That is why we love watching every game. The Isles' defensemen have done this in stride, blocking an unfathomable 65 shots from Sorokin and Varlamov. Combined with having one of the best goalie combinations in hockey, the Islanders have only allowed 11 goals in the last 6 games.