Islanders Rx: More offense, better defense, level goaltending

In lieu of a Super Theory of Supereverything, there are so many ways to look at a hockey team (and thank Bossy for that, as there are a lot of days to fill before training camp).

There's the opponent/schedule perspective: WebBard has looked at the Islanders' poor divisional record, and earlier he tried to uncover which players' road performance wasn't matching what they did at home (psst: Comeau). There's the individual growth perspective: With so many entry-level players, OzzyFan is polling you [FanPost] for the individual stat totals you think each Islander will hit this year.

Then just to remind us that context is everything and "record when" statements are cheap, we can sing that the Islanders under Scott Gordon are 6-2 against the four 2010 Western Conference semifinalists. Yeah.

So it's fine to look at individual situations (day games at home, back-to-backs against opponents wearing red, record on games following New York derbies, etc.), but sometimes it helps to take a simple view: Offense, defense, goaltending, special teams. From the bird's eye level, here's a quick look at how the Isles have ranked in those general categories the last three seasons (Ted Nolan's last, plus Scott Gordon's first two). We can use this to theorize on how, where, and whether they might improve in 2010-11.

Note: Data in the following tables has been adjusted to exclude the "goal" awarded for shootout wins, which the NHL bizarrely includes in their GF-GA tables.

Offense

Islanders GF Rank NHL Median
2009-10 214 21st 219.5
2008-09 198 29th 237
2007-08 189 30th 222.5

Even without significant forward additions this summer, offense might initially strike you as the easiest category to imagine the Islanders improving. All of the Islanders' best offensive forwards are at ages where they should (and better) be getting better.

Barring injury, it's hard to picture any important forward (Tavares, Okposo, Bailey, Nielsen, Comeau, Schremp) regressing except for 26-year-old Matt Moulson -- who might not hit 30 goals again but in any case is a complete player who won't drag you down at even strength. I'm worried that if Moulson "only" gets 18-20 goals people will call him a one-year wonder, but I'm not worried about the actual hockey Moulson will be playing night after night.

Of course, as you'll see, goals for was the Isles' best category in this review -- although it's a thin margin. Turn that 6-0 drubbing of Detroit into a 0-0 shootout, and the Isles season total would drop them to 26th.

But there's another important element of offense...

Power Play

Islanders PP% NHL Ave. Rank PP Opp. NHL Ave. Rank
2009-10 16.01% 18.23% 27th 306 304 20th
2008-09 16.88% 18.95% 23rd 320 341 23rd
2007-08 14.55% 17.75% 29th 330 351 24th

After a spike in Scott Gordon's (and Mark Streit's) first year, the Isles PP regressed last season.

Continuing with the "maturing young forwards" theme, the powerplay should improve, helped by the insertion of James Wisniewski into the point rotation and the return (presumably?) of a healthy (hopefully?) Doug Weight. Beyond those guys, Jack Hillen may also take another step as a second-unit option on the PP blueline. In truth, at last season's end Frans Nielsen looked like a better fit as a forward on the point than Okposo did, but hopefully neither is a well the Isles have to dip into.

Regardless, you'd think forwards like Tavares, Okposo and Schremp can make this more than a 27th-ranked unit.

 

Defense: Penalty Killing

Now for the other end of the ice. Since we just looked at their PP rank, we can start with the PK:

Islanders PK% NHL Ave. Rank PK Opp. NHL Ave. Rank
2009-10 76.33% 81.77% 29th 300 304 10th
2008-09 79.78% 81.05% 22nd 361 341 23rd
2007-08 81.87% 82.25% 19th 375 351 24th

Note: There are two "rank" categories here: PK efficiency, and total PK opportunities (powerplays given to the other team) -- in the latter case, as with goals against, less earns a higher ranking.

There are so many factors with the PK -- luck, shot-blocking, keeping the puck after you win it (a Bergenheim strength, though he may have kept it too long trying to go for shorthanded goals), whether your goalie is making the game-saving save -- oh, and then there's the small matter of whether you have talented personnel.

Simply put, I wouldn't want to be a PK coach in the NHL. Even if you have the right strategy, you need the right players. And even if you have the right players, they might be spent from the even-strength shift just ended. This is how bottom six forwards -- who get far fewer minutes -- carve out the niche of energizer-bunny, shot-blocking forward jumping on PK grenades and sacrificing body for the team.

However, no matter how you slice it, the Islanders PK dropped significantly last year, even as the NHL average PK efficiency improved.

 

Defense: Overall

Islanders GA NHL Median NYI Rank
2009-10 258 233 28th
2008-09 274 231.5 28th
2007-08 240 224 23rd

Having the 29th-ranked PK -- 71 PP goals against in all -- certainly isn't going to help your defensive rank any. And with only 300 PP opportunities against (10th-least), it's not like it was a case of being overworked.

Regardless, even throwing special teams out, the Islanders' 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio was 27th overall at 0.83. At 5-on-5 they allowed 174 goals, 29th in the league and "good" for 3.15 against per game. Only Edmonton was worse, allowing 192.

But was there another factor that may have hurt the Isles GA totals...?

 

Goaltending

Finally, one quick look at goaltending. Save percentage isn't the ideal measure, but nothing really is.

Islanders Save pct. NHL Median NYI Rank
2009-10 .901 .909 23rd (tie)
2008-09 .900 .906 23rd (tie)
2007-08 .904 .906 17th (tie)

Martin Biron had a few nice stretches, and he was in a tough spot, but he really had a year to forget in what ended up being 29 appearances. Take Rick DiPietro's rough .900 return, throw in  Biron's abysmal .896, and it's enough to drag the team's overall average down to .901 despite Dwayne Roloson's .907.

Of course, that .901 team figure is the same overall regular season save percentage as the Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks.

If the Islanders get the same performance out of Roloson plus even mildly improved backup work, then the onus is all on the rest of the team to improve. That means a continually growing offense (including a better PP) and a dramatically improved defense (including fixing an awful PK). Think they can do it?

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