Oliver Wahlstrom finished with a team-low 7:35 of total ice time as the New York Islanders took on the Anaheim Ducks at home. Which didn't sit well with most fans. So did the New York Islanders bench him or was there something more to his team-low ice time against the Ducks?
In the post-game press conference, Barry Trotz told the assembled media that he liked Wahlstrom's game on the night and his low ice time was more to do with situations in the game than anything else. Such as when special teams need to be deployed or when the game was at 4on4.
So, does that track?
New York Islanders: Was Wahlstrom "benched" or not?
It's important to start with a look at what Wahlstrom's time could have looked like. That means looking at how much time his linemates got during the game. Mathew Barzal - who was centering the third line as he continued his rehab of sorts - finished with 14:41 of total ice time. Zach Parise, the other winger on the third line finished with 16:33 of ice time.
Wahlstrom didn't play on the power play that night. This obviously accounts for some of the 'lost' time, but that doesn't make up a five-minute difference between Wahlstrom and his linemates. So, looking at the shift chart for the game in question, I noticed these few shifts when Barzal and Parise were out there but not Wahlstrom:
-Second Period: 01:46
-Second Period: 14:47
-Second Period: 17:43
-Third Period: 04:41
-Third Period: 13:10
Can we explain why Wahlstrom wasn't on the ice for these shifts with his linemates?
Second Period Shifts
Josh Manson takes a tripping penalty 59 seconds into the second period. The Islanders got the full two-minute advantage. Why Wahlstrom wasn't out there is certainly a debate to have, but it seems that Trotz did not want the young man out there on the power play. To be fair, Wahlstrom hasn't been on the PP since the Colorado game and the Isles have been just fine without him there.
At 14:17 of the second, both Casey Cizikas and Trevor Zegras take offsetting roughing penalties. And as Barry Trotz explained during the post-game, Wahlstrom does not (yet) play 4on4. The Isles were still up 3-1 at this point so giving Wahlstrom some open ice to work with seems like a good idea, but Trotz (who has 901 NHL wins to my 0) decided not to.
The third missed shift, at ~17:43 of the second period seems like a truly missed shift. It was a 5on5 portion of the period. The Isles had just gone up 4-2 about 20 seconds prior to this shift, and this shift was started on the fly and not the result of a D-zone draw (Wahlly starts ~64% of his shifts in the O-Zone). So he probably should have been out there for this one. The shift lasted for about a minute,
Third Period Shifts
At 4:01 of the third period, Derek Grant takes a boarding call on Ryan Pulock. Again, the Isles use the full two minutes. And again, Wahlstrom doesn't play. Why he isn't out there on the PP isn't quite clear, but it hasn't negatively affected the Isles of late so that's not a big worry.
The final 'missed shift', at ~13:10 of the third period, also seems like a true missed shift. Isles are up 4-2 at this point and the shift was done on the fly. They had just killed off a Zach Parise penalty for hooking Max Comtois. The Ducks were pressing hard though.
In the time between the end of the Parise penalty and the third line's next shift, the Isles commit a D-zone giveaway and allow two shots towards the net (one is on the net). It seems Trotz didn't want to risk making the situation worse by icing a player that he doesn't fully trust in those situations yet. This shift lasted about 40 seconds. It's important to note that this was also Barzal's last shift of the game.
Looking at the entirety of the game, including situational context, it seems that Wahlstrom missed, at most, two 5on5 shifts with his linemates. Both shifts would amount to ~1:40 of "missed time", so Walstrom "should" have finished with 9:15 of total ice time on the day.
Is that a "benching"? Absolutely not. It's certainly low but if you're mad at his low ice-time know that you're mad about ~1:40 of playing time. The missed time on the power play is a look of course, but again, the Isles power play has been perfectly fine of late (37.5% in the last 6 games) without Wahlstrom.
Yeah, Wahlstrom's ice-time is low, but it's important to look at the entire context here. Wahlstrom hasn't been at his best of late and it's clear Trotz is managing the young player in order to get the best out of him long-term.