Specialty Teams Have to Improve for Isles

There is no question there is a lot to be excited about regarding the New York Islanders next season. It’s been a long time since expectations were this high. Our own Larry Fisher of The Hockey Writers‘ recent article on the power rankings in the Eastern Conference had the Islanders ranked third. Fisher only had the Lightning and the Capitals ahead of New York. I can cite so many players that Islanders fans should feel confident and excited about going into next season. However, for New York to be a true Eastern Conference contender, their specialty teams must improve.

Power Play

Last season, the power play for New York was inconsistent. The Islanders finished middle of the pack in the regular season, winding up with a power-play ranking of 16th, at 18.7 percent efficiency. With John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Johnny Boychuk, to name a few, one would think the Isles would have had a more effective power play. Last season’s team leaders in terms of power-play goals were: Tavares (13), Nelson (10), Okposo (6), Boychuk and Lee (each with 5).

I am not sure of how many hockey insiders and Islander fans realize that the difference between New York and the Washington, in their first round playoff loss, was the failure of the Islanders’ power play. To refresh everyone’s memory, the Islanders lost in seven games to the Capitals and lost the final game by one goal. In fact, the Capitals outscored New York by just one goal in the series. The Islanders’ power play during the series was 0-for-14. That was the difference in the series. It’s very hard to win a playoff series when a power play is that ineffective. Next season, the Islanders need to come through more on the power play, especially in the big moments. This is highlighted in the video below.

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New York’s penalty kill was a tale of two seasons last year. The first two-thirds of the regular season last year, the Islanders penalty kill was putrid. However, the last third of the regular season, it all clicked for New York as they killed off penalties around 90 percent efficiency. New York finished the regular season ranked 26th in the league with a 78.0 penalty-kill percentage. Considering how strong the Islanders finished off the season, it shows how bad they were the first two-thirds of the season, to finish with such a poor ranking and percentage. That did cost the Islanders some points in the first two-thirds of the season. A more effective penalty kill during that time would have meant at bare minimum, a second place finish in the Metropolitan Division. Keep in mind a second-place finish in the division would have meant home-ice advantage for New York in their first-round series with Washington. That alone could have tilted the scales in a very high-contested series. It should be noted the Islanders’ penalty-kill unit continued their strong play into the playoffs versus the Capitals. Washington finished the regular season with the No. 1 power play in the NHL, with a 25.3 percent efficiency. Yet in the first-round series between the two clubs, New York’s penalty kill unit was strong killing 11 of 13 shorthanded situations. The Islanders need to continue that high level of penalty-kill play at the start of next season.

How the Islanders perform next season regarding the specialty teams could be the difference between another first-round playoff ouster or being one of the two teams left standing in the Eastern Conference Final.

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