The New York Islanders' vaunted powerplay has been an essential part of so many of their victories in 2013, so it's ironic that it has failed them right as they've clawed their way into the race for eighth in the Eastern Conference.
In yesterday's loss to Pittsburgh, the unit's struggles were glaring, as the Islanders were presented with a golden opportunity to end the Penguins winning streak yet failed on a five-minute powerplay that included a two-minute 5-on-3. It's no stretch to say that failure cost them their best opportunity to win the game.
Part of yesterday's problem was that age-old weakness of any powerplay: Letting an opposing penalty killer waste precious second by outworking you while you wait in "surely he'll give up and we'll get the puck back" mode.
The Achilles heel of any powerplay is the players' desire to conserve their energy for the offensive zone attack, which breeds a laziness in winning the puck back in their own zone. In this case, the aggressor was none other than Matt Cooke, who did his part to put the puck in the Isles zone and keep it there for long stretches while the Isles hoped he would dump and change.
The other part of yesterday's failure was one of approach and shot selection: The Isles had too many exchanges along the blueline that weren't dangerous because they didn't set up viable one-timers (It seems Mark Streit all-too-rarely receives a pass placed where he can unleash the one-timer without settling). They made too many passes to the low wing (especially to Brad Boyes) for bad-angle and frankly desperate one-time shots that more often went wide. And they just about refused to attempt any seam pass to set up a teammate on the doorstep.
Granted, particularly on the 5-on-3 the Penguins maintained a tight triangle and clogged the lanes with sticks. But there were moments where the open lane was there, and an interception on such an attempt would have been no worse than some of the low-percentage one-timers that led to clears.
By the Numbers
So the Islanders powerplay was frustrating yesterday and in fact the "league's est road powerplay" has come up empty in the first three games of this trip. They're on an 0-for-11 run and have converted on just two of their last 25 opportunities. They were memorably uncreative during the 4-on-3 powerplay they had in OT at Philadelphia, too.
But, annoying as this is to hear for fans who need them at their best right now, these things happen. Teams and their specialty units go through highs and lows. Sometimes it's luck, sometimes it's the approach (and sometimes it's both). In this case, the Isles PP unit has clearly looked off on multiple occasions during this run, but that too is something we've seen before.
And in every case this season, the Islanders have adjusted and resumed conducting one of the best powerplays in the league. They are likely to do so again.
Because even despite their recent struggles, they still rank ninth overall (20.6%) in the league in PP efficiency. And in a more telling stat over the long haul, they rank fourth overall in the rate of shots on goal with the extra man (55.7 shots per 60 minutes of 5-on-4 time).
Essentially, the Isles powerplay failed them in Pittsburgh and nearly cost them the second point in Philadelphia. The team still ranks 26th in 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio (0.81), so they still need their powerplay if they're going to resume their playoff push. But they'll make adjustments. The dangerous powerplay will return. Depending on the when and how, it might be the difference between claiming that eighth seed and falling just short.