2011-12 Season Previews: Islanders Special Teams

Most New York Islanders fans are excited by the return of Mark Streit, who among many strengths is a great presence on the powerplay.

But here's a curiosity: Without Streit last season the Isles' PP was middle of the pack (17th at 17.2%). The season before, with Streit and his 9 PPG? A miserable 16%, ranking 27th overall. That followed a 16.9% rate (23rd) in Streit's first season with the Islanders, when he had 10 PPG.

In fact, overall the Islanders' special teams units were pretty average last season, hardly the biggest factor in their 27th-overall finish. Here's a look at last year's figures and personnel, and how those things might change in 2011-12.

Penalty Kill

2010-11 PK: 83.2% (12th)
Times Short: 310 (8th-most)
Total PK Time: 5:11:54 (6th-most)
PPGA: 52 (16th-fewest)
SHGF: 15 (1st)

The Islanders' penalty killing wasn't bad overall last year, and by late season it became almost lethal as the Islanders (well, chiefly Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner) piled up shorthanded goals.

Here were the top 10 per-game PK guys in terms of TOI per game played last season. Obviously the injuries on the blueline meant multiple defensemen hit this list:

Eaton 3:05 Jurcina 2:19
Nielsen 2:59 Comeau 2:15
Martinek 2:36 Hamonic 2:10
MacDonald 2:23 Mottau 2:03
Bailey 2:21 Hillen 1:55

Not listed there are the departed Zenon Konopka, who was 11th (1:32 PK per game), and Grabner, who was 12th (1:31) but became a fixture -- a dangerous one -- on the PK during the second half of the season.

History and preseason usage hints that Steve Staios will be a penalty killer, though the extent is unclear. While he's been a relied-upon PK guy during many stretches of his career, he averaged just 0:37 per game on the PK for Calgary last season, and 1:52 per game in 2009-10 with the Oilers and Flames (where he still had second-unit useage).

Who slots above Staios on D is still open, but you'd hope they have at least two of the above in mind. in 2009-10 Streit was not their go-to guy on the PK, but he did still log 1:47 per game there. As their best all-around defenseman, he'll still be in the mix.

At forward, if Nielsen and Grabner resume being fixtures, it makes the PK considerably more effective and dangerous. But even with them in the regular rotation, there will need to be other forwards. Enter Marty Reasoner, who led Florida forwards with 2:45 in PK TOI per game last season.

Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau also remain candidates to get their share.

I haven't mentioned the goaltending -- predicting goaltending PK performance year-to-year is an impossible task -- but obviously the team will need its fair share of bailout saves from whichever of the three goalies is in the crease each night.

 

Power Play

2010-11 Conversion Rate: 17.2% (17th)
Opportunities: 302 (8th-most)
SHGA: 7 (tied with four teams for 10th-most)
5-on-3 opp's: 20 (4th) | 5-on-3 conversions: 7 (tied with three teams for 3rd-most)

On a per game PP ice time basis, here's who the Islanders relied upon most in 2010-11:

Weight 4:58 Nielsen 2:30
Tavares 3:30 Comeau 2:30
Parenteau 3:29 Bailey 2:23
Moulson 3:21 Mottau 2:06
MacDonald 3:03 Hamonic 1:59
Okposo 2:32 Wisniewski* n/a

I list Doug Weight there, despite his playing in only 18 games, to show just how much he was used at the point on the powerplay while he was in the lineup. Mark Streit's season-long injury was part of that, but Weight was seen as a go-to guy there going into the season, so losing both Streit and Weight required a dramatic change of plans.

Likewise, James Wisniewski was projected to be a key to the powerplay, and he was relied upon while an Islander (alas, his TOI splits are not available), but he was traded by the turn of the calendar.

Streit's return changes the pecking order as he's likely to again lead the team in PP TOI per game. John Tavares will also again be a fixture, with Matt Moulson and the right-handed P.A. Parenteau sure to spend significant time as well. But it's possible the deft-handed Frans Nielsen gets more of a look there, and Nino Niederreiter -- if he makes and sticks with the team -- might become a secondary big-body option in front of the net.

Opposite Streit could be MacDonald, Hamonic and even newcomer Brian Rolston, who still possesses a point-worthy cannon if not all-around PP-worthy skills. The Islanders have not been afraid to use forwards like Okposo and Nielsen at the point in recent years. That's not ideal in my book, but Nielsen at least possesses the hands and decision-making to do the job, and his lack of a threatening slapshot could theoretically be offset by Streit's return to the lineup.

That said, hopefully the Islanders are able to deploy a couple of regular defensemen as Streit's partner.

Depending on opportunities, from the middle of the pack of PP units to the best or the worst in the NHL, you're talking about a difference of roughly 15 goals over the course of the season. That still matters. And for the Isles to take a leap, they'd do well to get near the top of the league with one of those units.

 

Bottom Line: It's Still about 5-on-5

At the end of the day, 5-on-5 is where most of the game is still played. And that's still the area where the Islanders, who ranked 27th in 5-on-5 GF/GA last season, need the most improvement.

But we'll get to that in the other previews this week.

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