Monday Mo(u)rning Poll; Diary of a Slump when the PP Goes Dry

When the meaningful words
When they cease to function
When there's nothing to say
When will it start worrying you?

~"The Requiem," Killing Joke

You'll have to forgive my gratuitous references in the coming weeks to my favorite band you've never heard of. Killing Joke hits NYC the first weekend of December -- they've been around since 1979 and one bass player has already left this planet, so every live appearance is a bonus at this point -- and thus I'll be around for that show and a Sunday Islanders game. Plus, if you want to describe the Islanders' struggles in apocalyptic lyrics (certainly some are already writing the season's requiem), I can think of no better band for the job.

Obviously if I'm quoting obscure musicians now in their 50s, I've run out of ways to describe the Islanders' on-going slump. Not as obviously, I don't really consider losing streaks for my hockey team the end of the world, even ones this ugly; rather, just part of a fan journey with an uncertain end and a checkered past. But while we've rehashed offensive struggles and breakout troubles and everything in between, I decided to look at the Islanders' first seven games versus their last 10 from one more angle: Is this just a team that needs its powerplay to thrive or else?

That breakdown, as well as our first FIG (First Islanders Goal) pool leaderboard, after the jump.

Offense, Defense, a Powerplay Gone Cold

Qualitatively, I look at the Islanders season thus far as a team that had good luck early and lost its way once that luck ran out: A 4-1-2 start aided by a healthy powerplay (including two OT wins on 4-on-3 powerplays -- technically Moulson's winner in Tampa was right after the PP expired -- and one OT loss while shorthanded) that covered up some alarming efforts in victories in Toronto and Tampa Bay. That was followed by losses where those alarms were no longer obscured, the two losses to the Canadiens in particular. Then the wheels fell off in blowouts in Philadelphia and Carolina, in which the Islanders' game fell apart completely (and Rick DiPietro, it must be said, gave up deflating early goals that precipitated collapse).

The Islanders have seemingly spent the time since then trying to go back to basics: Rebuilding their defensive game (both blueliner and forward responsibilities), but in the process losing their way offensively. Many have observed that they at times seem to be lost for ideas in the offensive zone or, worse, staying on the perimeter. A team with fragile confidence searching for answers. Overall they read like the classic case of a young team with a thin margin of error, letting adversity shake confidence. So even when they gave up only four goals in the three-game run against Philadelphia/Anaheim/San Jose, the offense could only conjure one standings point.

But we talked during the hot start about how important the powerplay was; the losing streak has only continued the Islanders' improbable offensive drought at 5-on-5 (current GF/GA 5-on-5 ratio: NHL-worst 0.41). Is the Islanders' dry spell down to something as simple as a weaker powerplay -- a powerplay that has been their main source of offense in the first 17 games? Well, possibly. Their shots for and shots against haven't varied wildly from the 4-1-2 start to the 0-9-1 slump.

And even if you throw out the two blowout losses, numerically their powerplay proficiency -- along with goaltending -- has been the biggest departure in their play. Witness:

Note: The following figures omit Empty Net and Shootout Goals (each of which appear in official NHL GF/GA totals)

Stint GF GA Shots For Shots Against PP Opps PP%
4-1-2 start 3.0 2.57 28.14 28.57 9/35 25.7%
0-9-1 streak 1.4 3.6 28.1 29.1 7/45 15.5%
streak minus two blowouts (0-7-1) 1.37 3.0 27.13 28.75 6/35 17.1%

Now, all of that ignores game-to-game variations (for example: Just 14 shots against in Anaheim) and at least one additional significant injury (if not two) to defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Milan Jurcina. Also: "Score effects" often influence shot totals -- in other words, teams possessing leads often are less aggressive and thus get outshot, so the Isles' shot totals during their losing streak can be inflated by the fact they were always trying to erase their opponent's lead (final period in Los Angeles aside).

Regardless, I find it interesting that the Isles shot totals haven't changed much over this season; but their powerplay success -- the thing that can get them leads to protect -- has. Fans have been understandably frustrated with the powerplay over several recent games, but if the Islanders need their PP to click at an unsustainable 25% in order to win, then their problems, as we know, go beyond special teams.

First Islanders Goal (FIG) Standings

It's coincided with the winless streak precisely, and a few games (three) we haven't even had a winner in this consolation pool, while the fourth was a shutout of the Isles. Nonetheless, after 10 games of the formal pool which is either a curse or a way to pass tough times, here are your First Islanders Goal pool leaders:

LHH Clairvoyant # Wins Go-to Guy
Hakker 2 Wiz, Frans
MTBVibe 1 Tavares
JPinVA 1 Moulson
cunchpunch 1 Moulson
Anarcurt 1 Rob Schremp Hockey

The two Isles scorers who were not picked on their given nights were P.A. Parenteau and Michael Grabner.

Weekly Fan Confidence Poll

It was started with good intentions but becomes a little more absurd this week. Nonetheless, vote in the left margin of the home page with your "Fan Confidence" -- in this case, your level of confidence that they still have a shot at the playoffs. We hit a new low of 39 last week.

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