Just got back from the optometrist. They do a lot of "is this better, or is this better?" tests on you, to check how your eyes are working and make sure you don't mistake Andy Sutton for Zdeno Chara on the eye chart.
Me: "A ... E ... G ... N ... Y ... I ... Chara ... M--"
Doc: "Sorry, did you say Chara? It was Sutton ... We may need to adjust your prescription."
They start off with really easy ones before they refine them, so of course the first either/or test was: "The New York Islanders: Is this better, or is this better?" Through 21 games, the 2009-10 New York Islanders are vastly superior to the 2008-09 version, right?
Intuitively yes. But with some of the numbers, it's closer than you might think. Because game #21 of last season, a shootout "win" over Montreal (the night of the O'Byrne own goal), was actually the high-water mark for the year (9-10-2). After that, the Isles won only once in their next 13 games (1-11-1), and Tank for Tavares became the clear Christmas-time mission.
Qualitatively, few would disagree that this year's top line is more consistent, more dangerous, and more effective on the powerplay (I mean, Tavares + Moulson easily trumps Comrie/Weight + Guerin, right?). Meanwhile, the goalies are more reliable. But some of the team numbers are fun to compare and contrast -- along with an expanded record that doesn't obscure extra-time wins and shootout losses.
I had a table of specific players' performances through 21 games last year vs. this year, but it crashed in the story editor, and well, serves me right for flying without a chute. But there were a few interesting factoids, such as Doug Weight having 4-17-21 through 21 games last year (versus 0-9-9 in just 13 games in 2009-10), while Kyle Okposo just had 2-3-5 at this point last year.
Anyway, here's a comparison of some team numbers. Keep in mind the Islanders have played 6 more OTs than they had at this point last year, so that adds minutes and can change the way teams play in those minutes.
The Islanders have won two fewer games in regulation than this point last year, but they've lost four fewer as well. And they've been in basically every game except for the Montreal drubbing.
The Goals and Shots and Such
How about that? Their shot differential is worse, but their goal differential is better. In other words, the Isles' shooting accuracy has been higher (thank you young snipers), as has their save percentage (thank you old goalies).
The Special Teams
The Islanders have drawn fewer powerplay opportunities but made more hay of them. They've also been shorthanded fewer times (hmmm...fewer penalties on both sides: "New NHL" behavior fully adapted, or old-style officiating creeping back in?), but they've been less efficient killing them off.
That's just a 21-game look. A few key differences, as Scott Gordon often cites, has been health on the blueline. Doug Weight, Trent Hunter and Frans Nielsen have actually played fewer games so far than at the same point last year, but Andy Sutton only had 13 under his belt at this point (after missing all but one game in October 2008), and the whole blueline was in constant injury flux.
The happiest thing for me: This squad has flat-out been more fun to watch. In a year where I've pretty much not concerned myself with playoffs, that counts for something. Also, I'm going to go ahead and assume the Islanders aren't about to go on a 1-11-1 run like they did after the 21st game of last season. Call it a hunch.
Anything else you pick up on, either numerically or "I just got a feeling"-wise?