I just don't see how calling Gillies up for tonight's game helps much. Gordon doesn't skate his enforcers much (and I don't think he should), and though their implied "puttin' on the foil" presence on the bench may provide the confidence of security for the other Islanders, I've yet to see evidence of that helping gain wins. Improved special teams -- now that would help garner wins.
>>a rare and accidental moment of clairvoyance from yesterday's game preview
Maybe it's because we tend to focus on the development of the young players and the lingering presence (to some) of veterans, or maybe it's because there is so little media following this team. Whatever it is, I'm surprised so little attention is directed at the Islanders' failing special teams. Seems the situation would warrant at least a terse Scott Gordon "We're a depleted squad" response.
Though hardly world-beaters at 5-on-5, this season the Isles have improved at full strength over their abysmal 2008-09 performance. With a .82 GF/GA differential at 5-on-5, they still rank just 28th (right behind Detroit, strangely). That might be enough to win more games -- if only the Islanders had even an average special teams unit. But they don't.
The powerplay ranks 28th (15.5%). The penalty kills ranks 29th (an abysmal 74.7%). For both units, this is not a recent problem, though Andy Sutton's departure and Andrew MacDonald's injury surely exacerbates the PK's difficulty.
It's not for lack of PP opportunities or too much PK work, either: Through 66 games -- 34 road, 32 home (over time teams get more PPs at home) -- they've had 245 PP opportunities, which is 20th most in the league. Not luxurious, but not bottom of the barrel. They've been shorthanded just 233 times, which is the 9th fewest in the league.
A Glaring Problem, or Just Another One of Many?
You could say, "Well, the Islanders rank in the bottom three of all three phases of the game -- they are who
we the stats thought they are." And that's as true as Dennis Green is volatile. But could they be better? During last year's 30th-place finish, the PP (16.9%) ranked 23rd in the league, while the PK (79.8%) ranked 22nd.
Though the PK has been torched the last few games, (during which time the PP has also suffered from a lack of opportunities), in the season-long picture, it's the PP that disappoints me more. There is real talent on the Islanders powerplay, it's just very young. Maybe that means John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, Josh Bailey and Rob Schremp (now injured, no update yet Update: OUT FOR THE SEASON. Of course.) will one day click to make a better unit, but in the short term it has looked much of the season like it could use more direction. And, perhaps, a Matt Martin-style body in front of the net.
A run of four road games without a PP goal (0 for 14) before the Olympic break typified the Islanders' ills there. Since the break, they've actually converted three of eight chances (they only got one opportunity last night Philadelphia). It comes and goes.
The PK -- well it really wasn't that good to start with, but we're likely seeing it get worse (short sample-size caveat) without Sutton and MacDonald back there. Since the Olympic break and the Sutton trade, it has killed off only six of 12.
Of course, since the Islanders' shootout win over Florida in late January (we can peg that as the end of their winning ways), the Islanders have seen these totals, excluding shorthanded (one each) and empty-net goals: Islanders goals: 8 PP, 24 EV. Opponents' goals: 13 PP, 38 EV.
In other words, all three phases have been poor. (Oh, or we could just blame the three-goalie situation.) So ... maybe asking for a superior special teams unit -- any unit -- is asking too much out of this team at this point, like trying to find a good slice of a rancid steak. The double-edged sword of the rebuild roster right now is that three of the four best players are 21 or younger, and most of the truly experienced veterans are in goal or at a stage where they should not be logging major minutes.
Still ... the special teams. It's a red flag worth asking about, is it not?