The New York Islanders have yet another prolonged break in the schedule after their Western Canadian road trip was postponed (and a game in Seattle). The Isles now have to fill their time with practice-after-practice for the next few days before welcoming the New Jersey Devils to UBS Arena on the 13th.
They'll take that practice time of course. Temporary head coach Lane Lambert spoke about practicing during this recent break and said his team can use this to their advantage.
"There's things that we can work on now, and use this time to our advantage."- Lane Lambert
So what should they work on? How should the Isles use this break to their advantage?
New York Islanders: Protect the slot
The power play is working phenomenally well of late. Since December 1st, the Isles hold a 34.6% efficiency. That's the third-best power play in the NHL. Only the Leafs and Hurricanes are better with a 41.4% and 37% effective PP, respectively. So I don't think they need to work on the power play.
The penalty kill isn't as good, but with an 80.8% efficiency since Dec 1, it ranks eleventh in the NHL. So clearly, special teams aren't something they need to work on right now.
I'd suggest they look at closing the gap of quality opportunities-against they're currently operating.
Since the start of the season, the Isles are one of the worst teams at reducing quality opportunities against. Their 2.67 xGA/60 ranks 23rd in the NHL. Contrast that to last season when the Isles held a 2.27 xGA/60 ranking them tenth in the NHL.
The Islanders have the time right now to out how to lock down the middle of the D-zone and to keep shots to the outside. And it's not like this has to be a new lesson, we aren't talking about a bunch of new players learning a new system here.
Sure, Nick Leddy is gone and Zdeno Chara was added. But there are still five guys out there who've gone through the Barry Trotz defensive system for a year-plus now. This team should be able to play the sound structural defense they've been known for the past four-ish years now.
I can imagine some of you might be saying: "what about the offense? Why not focus on creating more goals?"
I have to admit you've got a point. The Islanders sit 31st for total goals scored (64) and 29th for goals scored per game (2.29). That isn't good. Not good at all. My counter to that solid point is that the Islanders haven't been strong offensively for years now.
From 2018-19 through 2020-21, the Isles rank 24th for total goals scored (549) and goals scored per game (2.74), but yet still managed to hold the ninth-best points percentage in the league at 0.617%. They did that by playing solid defense and keeping quality opportunities low.
The offense isn't what it should be, I'll give you that, but the Islanders don't win if they can't play solid defense. That must be fixed first.