FanPost

New York Islanders 21-game Review, Part 2: Defensemen

Guys, you're on the same team! (And doing well, frankly.) - Bruce Bennett

Last year, the Islanders rolled out the following Defensemen:
Mark Streit
Travis Hamonic
Andrew MacDonald
Steve Staios
Mike Mottau
Mark Eaton
Milan Jurcina

The last 4 guys are all gone and replaced with newcomers: Brian Strait, Matt Carkner, Thomas Hickey, Lubomir Visnovsky, Joe Finley and returning veteran Radek Martinek.

Are these improvements? Well the 4 guys from last year were.....not good. So the new guys were probably improvements by default. But how much so? Let's take a look at the #s:

NOTE: All statistics are Even Strength. Zone Entry #s are through only 19 games.

Defenseman Games Played Corsi/60
Relative Corsi/60 Zone-Start % Quality of Competition (Relative Corsi) EV Time On Ice Zone Entries % of Entries with Possession Minor Penalties Taken/60 Minor Penalties Drawn/60
Travis Hamonic 21 -5.22 -6.9 47.1% +.770 18.06 67 36% 0.8 0.6

Table 1: Relevant Stats and Fancy Stats of Travis Hamonic.
LEGEND:
Corsi/60: Shots +/- using ALL Shots - so the statistic is (Blocked+Missed+On Goal Shots) For - (Blocked+Missed+On Goal Shots) Against per 60 while a player is on the ice.
Relative Corsi/60: A Player's Corsi/60 MINUS the Team's Corsi/60 while he's not on the ice.
Zone-Start %:
The percentage of faceoffs you're on the ice that are in the offensive zone (not including neutral zone faceoffs)
Quality of Competition (Relative Corsi):
A measure of the skill of the average opposing player on the ice. (Basically it's the average Relative Corsi of the opposing players on the ice while this player was on the ice.)

Travis Hamonic came up for the Islanders 2 years ago far in advance of the Islanders' plans. And he performed spectacularly - playing prime defensive minutes with good possession #s, as well as showing a scoring touch while Mark Streit was injured. Last year he didn't get the power play time, but continued to put up solid defensive #s.

This year, it seems to the naked eye that Hamonic's performance has declined. Statistically this is in fact the case as well. He's still facing top opponents and has more D-Zone starts than O-Zone Starts. But the possession rate has slightly dropped - which wouldn't be as much of a problem except that the possession rate overall appears to have risen on the team this year, so we'd expect his to get better as well.

The thing is though, that Hamonic's performance is really not that much worse than the last two years. So he HAS been a disappointment yes, but not really by much. Seriously if you look at the #s only of this year you wouldn't see much of a problem - he's facing the top competition of Isles D Men and is barely losing the possession battle. His zone-entries appear to be fine for a Defensemen if not notable in any way.

I would expect his #s to get better as the season goes on honestly. He's a young kid, he should improve, not get worse at this point.

Defenseman Games Played Corsi/60
Relative Corsi/60 Zone-Start % Quality of Competition (Relative Corsi) EV Time On Ice Zone Entries % of Entries with Possession Minor Penalties Taken/60 Minor Penalties Drawn/60
Andrew MacDonald 21 -2.63 -2.7 47.3% +.666 18.45 46 24% 0.2 0.3

AMac has been a point of contention amongst Islander fans this year. For the first few games of the year, he was being used a bajillion minutes per game (getting over 50% of the minutes in one OT game at one point). And people can't help but notice his mistakes.

Yet the possession #s by AMac are still solid and in line with his #s from the last two years. His overall possession #s (Corsi) has improved to the point where, despite facing top competition, the Team is barely losing the possession battle overall. I don't think this means AMac is playing better than last year - the Relative Corsi has remained the same which suggests that Amac is playing at the same level as last year, but the team itself has gotten better around him.

Meanwhile, unlike the other Islander D-Men, AMac does this while taking barely any penalties at all - which is an underrated skill. His one flaw is a propensity to dump the puck in instead of looking for a pass to try and get the zone in - the only passes AMac attempts frequently are the risky blue-line to blue-line pass attempts, which more often than not have the same result as a dump.

So why do we think AMac is playing so poorly? What's his problem in our eyes? I have a few reasons why I think this is:
1. Amac's ice time is really high so it's inevitable that he'll make 1 or more "bad plays" per game, despite playing solid Defense most of the time.
2. Amac is playing against the top opposing skaters, so when he makes a mistake it means the opponents' top lines are getting a shot at the net. Thus his mistakes are more likely to be costly.
3. Unlike the other Islander D-Men, AMac's skills are entirely limited to his defensive value. He has some offensive ability in the offensive zone, but it's much less than the other guys. As a result, we don't really see standout plays from AMac that stand in our memory.

In short, with AMac it seems like he's a poor player at times because in our minds the bad plays stick out while none of his plays are so obviously great to compensate. But hes more than solid all around.*

*Lending Credence to this theory was what happened in one of the Pittsburgh games. To Islanders' fans in the post-game thread, AMac seemed sloppy, having made several mistakes. Yet when I read a Pittsburgh blog on the game, it spoke so highly of how AMac had stuck to Malkin all game and shut him down. And yet no one at LHH noticed.

Defenseman Games Played Corsi/60
Relative Corsi/60 Zone-Start % Quality of Competition (Relative Corsi) EV Time On Ice Zone Entries % of Entries with Possession Minor Penalties Taken/60 Minor Penalties Drawn/60
Mark Streit 21 0.00 +1.6 54.2% +.123 18.16 63 54% 0.8 0.5

Mark Streit is another controversial player on the Isles this year who has seemingly made a lot of mistakes. And unlike the last two guys, his #s certainly seem worse than last year. Last year, Streit got more offensive zone faceoffs than D-Zone faceoffs, but still faced decent competition. And in this, he had positive possession #s over 82 games (Corsi/60 of +1.44) despite being on a worse team overall.

This year, Streit's possession #s are exactly even - and he's now facing fairly meh competition (he's now clearly "2nd pair" in terms of opponents faced) and playing with a better team. Again he's being slightly sheltered by getting more O-Zone starts than D-zone ones, so his #s SHOULD be better than this.

That said, he's still an asset to this team: he is excellent at moving the puck through the neutral zone, getting an entry with possession on 54% of his entries - a fantastic # for a Defenseman. He's clearly still got it when it comes to leading the rush, by virtue of either carrying it in or just passing it to a man just-crossing the zone.

The Isles have a decision to make regarding retaining Streit after this year, and if they do the zone entries on their own show a reason why you'd like him to stay. Still, the decline does appear evident and the Isles should be careful how much and more importantly how long they offer him.

Defenseman Games Played Corsi/60
Relative Corsi/60 Zone-Start % Quality of Competition (Relative Corsi) EV Time On Ice Zone Entries % of Entries with Possession Minor Penalties Taken/60 Minor Penalties Drawn/60
Brian Strait 15 0.00 +4.6 56.4% +.323 14.78 28 32% 0.8 0.0

Sadly, Brian Strait is basically done for this year, so these #s aren't going to change. Islander fans came to know Strait as a solid Defensive partner for Mark Streit, who - despite contributing very little offense - could be a nice partner for the offensive player with the similar name.

Yet what has been oddly missed by the love of Streit has been the fact that this year - and in fact with the Penguins in his short stints the last 2 years - he has been aided by favorable zone-starts. In other words, he's been decently sheltered, being on for more offensive zone faceoffs than d-zone faceoffs - in fact more than any other Islander.

He's not facing top competition (2nd tier) either and yet his possession rate is only exactly even over his 15 games. That's....not exciting.

His Neutral Zone game is not bad - roughly the same as Hamonic overall (though his entries tend to be more by pass than by carry unlike Hamonic).

And again, Strait doesn't provide offense. He had 4 assists in 15 games and no goals and that # was probably Strait playing above his head if you look at Strait's statistics even back through college.

In short, Strait was an okay D-Man for the minutes he was getting and certainly he wasn't screwing up his assignment....but he wasn't doing anything particularly well. He's a 3rd pairing guy really - you probably will have at least one of those guys on a playoff team, but you don't get that excited over them. So he's an upgrade from Mike Mottau. But that's about it.

Defenseman Games Played Corsi/60
Relative Corsi/60 Zone-Start % Quality of Competition (Relative Corsi) EV Time On Ice Zone Entries % of Entries with Possession Minor Penalties Taken/60 Minor Penalties Drawn/60
Thomas Hickey 14 +5.94 +6.1 54.3% -1.310 12.98 18 39% 0.7 0.3

Thomas Hickey is a more interesting case. Hickey's pick-up on waivers was more intriguing in the preseason for obvious reasons: he was a former top 10 pick and unlike Strait, he seemed to provide the potential for more offense from the D spot. Thus it was expected that Hickey, not Strait, would be the guy to make the team. But instead for the first few games Hickey saw the bench and Strait and Finley got the playing time.

Yet Hickey's #s are very very intriguing. The offense hasn't been there, but while Hickey has been on the ice, the Isles have been winning the possession battle. By a good amount (Corsi/60 of +5.94). Now, of course, this has been happening in slightly sheltered minutes against bottom competition. So that's what we'd hope a good D man would do against this type of competition...and Hickey HAS done so.

And for the first few games, Hickey was doing this along with Matt Carkner, whose background is not that of a guy able to handle even bottom pair D competition.

Now the offensive performance of Hickey has perhaps been disappointing - only that 1 overtime goal and no assists. But I suspect more of this is due to a lack of opportunities: the only D-Men who seem to have licenses to shoot on this team are Lubo, Streit, and Hamonic, ,and Hickey is playing with one of these guys right now. So that limits his ability to get assists to good passes, and we've yet to see that.

Still, the possession #s are very intriguing and I hope that the Isles decide to try and see how he can do against tougher competition. While some of the #s are probably the product of playing with Lubo, the great #s began even before Lubo joined the team.

Defenseman Games Played Corsi/60
Relative Corsi/60 Zone-Start % Quality of Competition (Relative Corsi) EV Time On Ice Zone Entries % of Entries with Possession Minor Penalties Taken/60 Minor Penalties Drawn/60
Lubomir Visnovsky 11 +9.64 +6.7 53.1% -0.590 17.54 37 57% 1.2 0.6

Isles fans 1 month ago: Hi Lubo. Nice of you to join the team. Now that you've done so, can you at least perform like you're a top pair D man so we can deal you for at least the 2nd round pick you cost us?
Isles fans now: Holy Cow, Lubo is really really good! Can he come back next year?

Yeah Lubo has been good. Very good. Like, while he's been on the ice, the Islanders have outshot their opponents by nearly 10 shots per 60 minutes at EV. That's elite right there. Yes, Lubo has faced weak competition and has been slightly sheltered (you may see a theme developing here) but while he's been on the ice, the Isles are slaughtering this opposition. His only weakness is that he tends to take too many penalties, but he has no track record of this being a problem so I'd expect this to be a small sample size fluke.

This is of course mainly due to Lubo's possession abilities. He gets the puck through the neutral zone on an elite 57% clip (it used to be higher amazingly but he's had a "rough" few games) and is an offensive presence once he's in the O-Zone. Lubo may not be the greatest in the D-Zone, though he's better than people give him credit for....but his offensive ability MORE than makes up for it.

Defenseman Games Played Corsi/60
Relative Corsi/60 Zone-Start % Quality of Competition (Relative Corsi) EV Time On Ice Zone Entries % of Entries with Possession Minor Penalties Taken/60 Minor Penalties Drawn/60
Matt Carkner 9 -4.40 +6.8 53.7% -1.853 10.60 15
20% 2.5 0.6

So yeah. Matt Carkner. Easy Ice time (same as the last guys we've talked about except even worse competition) and not that good a possession rate - the Isles were getting outshot by 4.4 shots per 60 while he was on the ice. Which would be what we'd expect from him given his poor statistics from last year. Oh yeah and he's taken 4 minors in limited minutes which is not good if only in a small sample size. Still last year's #s suggest that's not an outlier result.

That said, there are two things we need to say before simply dismissing Carkner. First, as you'll soon see, some of these numbers were attained by playing alongside Joe Finley who is truly awful (and Finley has been worse alongside Carkner in that small sample than he has been regularly) On the other hand, when playing with Hickey, the #s have been fine.

Second, Carkner's Relative Corsi is actually positive, suggesting that his lower possession rate is the result of the players around him, and that he himself has been a positive. I'm not really buying this - I think a good part of this is the weak competition, the small sample size, and the fact that most of his ice time has been with Hickey. In fact, with Hickey, Carkner has been a positive possession player (52.9% possession rate). Without Hickey, Carkner has been a below possession player (46.7%). By contrast Hickey has in fact been better possession wise without Carkner, though of course it helps Hickey to play with Lubo.

In sum, Carkner is at best passable as a 3rd pair guy. At BEST. And we have him for two more years. Joy.

Defenseman Games Played Corsi/60
Relative Corsi/60 Zone-Start % Quality of Competition (Relative Corsi) EV Time On Ice Zone Entries % of Entries with Possession Minor Penalties Taken/60 Minor Penalties Drawn/60
Joe Finley 12 -12.49 -15.4 55.0% -1.368 14.26 12 0% 1.3 0.4

Joe Finley is bad. Can I leave it at that? No?

Fine: First, the Isles are being outshot by more than 12 shots per 60 while he's on the ice, despite facing crappy opponents and getting sheltered minutes. Second, he's a total non-presence in the neutral zone.

Third, every Islander but one (John Tavares oddly enough) has worse #s when playing with Finley than when Finley is off the ice. I am not kidding - every guy but JT is harmed by Finley's presence.

Finley was an okay waiver claim pickup....size doesn't grow on trees. But he was on waivers for a reason: Size BY ITSELF does not make a player an NHL player. Finley is just size. He has nothing else. He is the Mike Mottau of this year (Okay he might be slightly better).

OVERALL:

Overall the Islanders Defense has been better than last year by a good bit. AMac has stayed the same, Streit and Hamonic have gotten a little bit worse, but Lubo is a major upgrade, Hickey seems to be a potential real steal (the next Amac perhaps?) and Strait is servicable. Moreover, we've gone from 4 dead-weight D men to at best 2, and really Carkner isn't super Mottau like. Moreover, both of those 2 guys haven't gotten major minutes or games played for various reasons. And Hamonic should be better as the season goes on.

Moreover, the Isles still have help coming in the Bridge with Donovan being an asset down the line (in addition to other Isles D prospects like Reinhart and Mayfield). The D has not been the problem - it's just that the goaltending makes it look worse than it is.


Still, the Isles are likely losing both Lubo and Streit for next year which is a problem considering how good Lubo is. Something to think about.

But anyhow, if the D Corp has improved so much, how come the Isles overall possession #s are still around the same as last year? The reason likely lies in the forward corp. Which is our topic in Part 3 of this series.

<em>Submitted FanPosts do not necessarily reflect the views of this blog or SB Nation. If you're reading this statement, you pass the fine print legalese test. Four stars for you.</em>

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