The New York Islanders, currently in second place in the Metropolitan Division, have had an amazing turn-around season. No one saw it coming and, as a long time fan, it’s exciting to see a window of success opening for this team. However, this young Islanders team, which has dropped five of its last seven games, is missing a few key ingredients of the league’s legitimate contenders.
Playing a Full 60 minutes
A quick Google Search of “playing a full 60 minutes,” or something to that affect, will yield countless player and coach interviews, videos, articles – you name it, talking about playing a complete game from puck drop to the final horn. And I’ll be the first one to admit that watching this team under Barry Trotz has been a breath of fresh air. There’s structure in all three zones and league-leading goaltending that looks good even if the Islanders don’t come out on top.
But it’s rare, despite the number of wins, that the Islanders appear to put in the effort for a full game on both sides of the puck. Shot quality over quantity worked for a long time, and with a lot of success. Now, as teams have started to tighten up their game, the Islanders back end hasn’t been able to bail them out of being out attempted every night. Whether it’s falling behind early or starting strong and giving up a lead, the Islanders need to start putting in more of a full effort in the last 16 games of the season and they need to start getting more pucks to the net.
The Islanders power play has been, in a word – terrible. There’s very little movement and they continue to rely on shots from the top with bodies in front looking for a rebound or deflection, adding up to a 15.8 percent success rate. That rate goes down to around 14 percent since the All-Star Break. That’s not to say they shouldn’t use this approach, but they need a refresh, and quick.
The Islanders penalty kill has been the better of the two special teams, but it’s only middle of the pack (currently 15th out of 31 teams). Their approach the last two seasons while a man down raises some questions. The high forward gets out of position nearly every time as they attempt to skate the width of the ice following the puck, which just has not worked. At a time of the season when one goal can help give you home ice advantage or help win a series, the Islanders special teams need to take a step forward.
Scoring Depth & Consistency
Currently, the only position the Islanders have depth at is between the pipes, though that’s been having its own issues over the last 10 or so games. Scoring has been low for the Islanders all season and is currently the third-lowest of all teams currently in playoff position; just two goals more than the St. Louis Blues (186) and three ahead of the Minnesota Wild (185). They’ve scored two or fewer goals in 30 of 66 games and three goals 14 times. The playoffs can often be low scoring affairs, but that’s because defenses have tightened up. So unless the Islanders plan on winning games 1-0, they’ll need to find guys throughout the lineup who can find the back of the net consistently.
If the Islanders want to be considered contenders, they still have some work to do as the season comes to a close, something Trotz is fully aware of. In a conversation with Newsday’s Andrew Gross in January, Trotz said, “As we get down to the stretch, you’re going to start playing some playoff games because of the implications. When you get down to the last 20 games, everything goes up. The pace of the game and the intensity, it’s going to start building here.” Can the Islanders regroup on the road and build momentum for the playoffs? They don’t have much time to find out.
Jon Zella is a 30-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.