Since before Barry Trotz took over as head coach, the New York Islanders have had a dismal power play. In fact, this season, the team converted on the man advantage at 18.8%, ranked 20th in the NHL. However, it’s been a different story in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their power play is converting at 27.3%, good for fifth among the 16 playoff teams.
So, what is it about their special teams that suddenly has the Islanders finding the back of the net more often?
Bodies in Front
One of the major adjustments that’s created a positive ripple effect on the power play is that they now have a skater planted in front of the net.
“They had more traffic around the front of the net,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “And they got some bounces. Let’s face it, the first goal went in off our skate” (from, ‘Bruins’ loss wasn’t Tuukka Rask’s fault. But they still need him to be better if they intend to win Stanley Cup,’ The Athletic, 06/01/2021).
Like it or not, that’s the point of having bodies in front. Sometimes it creates a distraction so the shooter can beat the goaltender clean, while other times, it deflects off something or someone in front and finds some twine. The Islanders have finally learned to battle in front of the net, which has been missing since captain Anders Lee went down with an injury.
Notice how Josh Bailey scores this power-play goal. Sure, it deflects off Bruins defenseman Jeremy Lauzon’s skate and ends up in the back of the net, but that’s not all that’s going on in this play. Brock Nelson establishes his presence in front of Tuuka Rask, battling Connor Clifton, and distracts Rask from keeping track of the direction of the puck, as he anticipates a quick pass for a shot.
Quick passes are also benefitting the Islanders’ power play. They used to hold the puck to try to orchestrate the perfect play. Now, they’re moving the puck faster and trying to get it on net more often.
In this play, J.G. Pageau gets to the front of the net. While the four other Islander skaters are shuffling the puck, Pageau establishes himself in front of Rask. As the puck reaches Anthony Beauvillier on the opposite side, Pageau quickly backs off to the left bumper, while Beauvillier draws two defenders to the right bumper, and he cashes in on a perfect pass from Beauvillier.
Beauvillier and Pageau are at it again here in Game 1. Pageau establishes himself in front of Rask, with Beauvillier as a second net-front presence in the slot. Excellent puck movement between Jordan Eberle and Noah Dobson shifts the Bruins defense out of position, and Dobson finds a lane to get a shot off from the blue line. Distracted by Pageau, the puck beats Rask on a Beauvillier deflection to open the scoring in the second round.
It helps that Pageau and Beauvillier are having an excellent postseason, leading the Islanders in scoring with nine points each, and doing the little things that bring these kinds of results. The team doesn’t have the same offensive skills as the Bruins; however, they have that same grind mentality, which is what they’re doing on the power play: grinding in front of Rask and battling for position. It’s working, and it will need to continue because they’ll need all the goals they can get in this series.
It helps that Mathew Barzal has finally started to turn it on in the last few games, although he hasn’t found the score sheet often, and the Islanders have significantly improved their power play without their best player contributing. It will only get better once Barzal starts finding the back of the net, especially as the team heads back to the Barn for the next two contests, starting with Game 3 on Thursday.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Casey Cizikas said. “We know how that barn rocks, and we’re going to build off of that crowd and we’re looking forward to it.”
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James is a THW New York Islanders writer and podcast host of Nassaumen Hockey Podcast. A trusted source for Islanders content for many years at THW, James is passionate about keeping Islander fans up to date on the latest in Islanders news. Other content contributions also include his Co-Editor-in-Chief status for NYIslesBlog.com. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow James on Twitter.