Islanders Defensive Woes Reason for Skid

Only the Arizona Coyotes have allowed more goals against per game this season than the New York Islanders. Even early in the season, this is a troubling statistic when considering the high-hopes when the team acquired Boychuk, Leddy, and Halak to help keep pucks out of the net.

Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson have and will get the brunt of the blame for this—and don’t get me wrong they certainly have not been very good so far—but the bigger issue here is just an overall lack of understanding defensive concepts. This group plays terrible team defense and seem to simply not understand what they should be doing.

The biggest problem, both at even strength and on the penalty kill (which has been terrible), is leaving players open in the slot. Think back to the last game before the road trip against Winnipeg, where two goals were put in on scrambles in front of the net by the Jets. This is unacceptable. It doesn’t exactly take a hockey guru to tell you that the area directly in front of the netminder is one that should be defended heavily.

Excuse the crude illustration, but here’s some examples.

Exhibit A: Here’s Hertl’s goal. Notice anything strange about where the defensive players are?

I shouldn’t have to point out that Hertl is completely alone in the slot, but I did. Two Islanders defensemen chasing the play below the goal line while the two forwards are too high in their zone to do anything about it. This is just poor discipline from the defensemen, and it leads directly to the tying goal.

Exhibit B: Two Sharks parked in the slot, one right-handed forward ready to get a one-time shot off if the pass comes his way. One Islanders defenseman in the slot attempting to cover two Sharks, and not one but TWO Islanders outside of the near faceoff dot. I’m not sure what the idea was here, but it obviously didn’t work. If Pavelski gets all of the shot, this is a sure goal.

Another issue defensively: forwards filling their lanes properly when defending the rush.

This first example is from the game against Winnipeg, the game-winner for the Jets that shouldn’t have happened.

Kyle Okposo turns the puck over which leads to the Jets getting a chance the other way. Inexplicably, as Leddy and Boychuk square up with their assignments Okposo has a moment of hesitance where he clearly isn’t sure what he needs to do. The slight hesitation when Okposo skates down the middle before figuring out that Ladd is his man is all it takes for Ladd to get free and bury a rebound. Okposo needs to keep his feet moving. This is simple fundamental hockey. This goal should not have happened.

James Sheppard’s goal late in the game for San Jose to really put things away rests solely on the shoulders of Ryan Strome. As you watch San Jose look to gain the zone, notice that Strome, playing center, doesn’t skate into the slot but instead goes to make a hit on the boards. This creates a 2 on 1 and forces Matt Martin to attempt to make a play on Strome’s assignment. This goal was a dagger through the heart of an Islanders team that hung in there, despite playing some poor defense and not being able to put more than one past Niemi.

I’m not sure if there’s a quick fix to this. I can’t put these poor decisions on the coaching staff, because from Peewee hockey you’re taught what to do in these scenarios. Is the problem just that the Islanders are full of forwards who don’t know how to play a lick of defense, and defensemen who aren’t good enough to bail them out? All I know for sure is that if they don’t get these issues solved this team is going nowhere.