For posterity it's nice to have a numeric snapshot of who's doing what at a given point in the year, because by the end of the season you know some of these player rankings -- and how Scott Gordon deploys players -- will change. After the jump is a leaderboard of Islanders stats in various categories after 51 games -- 51 games where they're 23-20-8, I might add. (Relish it now, because you never know: That could be the high-water mark.)
But before that, a word about the departed Nate Thompson. In addition to Thompson's intangibles and other assorted sports cliches (cliches I am not immune to using, I admit), Thompson's presence on the penalty kill is what Gordon may miss most. But should he?
Among Islanders forwards, Thompson has logged the second-most PK minutes (Richard Park averages 2:46 per game, Thompson averaged 2:34. The next closest is Blake Comeau at 1:51). Throwing out 3-on-5, according to Behind the Net Thompson's also been on the ice for the second-most 4-on-5 goals against (20), behind Park's 26. Makes sense, right? If you play the PK the most, you'll be on for the most goals against.
But something that I and a few others have alluded to is that, even controlling for his higher PK time, Thompson and Park still give up PP goals at a much higher rate than their fellow forwards. Now it's possible that Gordon, who obviously trusts them, uses them in the "toughest" parts of the PK (whatever that is), so naturally they'll be victimized the most. But three or four other forwards get enough PK time to tell us that, with minute-munching Thompson gone, the PK should improve.
Note: The Islanders PK sits at 75.8%, currently 28th overall. For what it's worth, since Thompson last played Jan. 9, the Islanders PK has killed 13 of 16 (17 if you count the Penguins' empty-netter), going perfect except for the disastrous night in Pittsburgh.
While Thompson and Park don't play twice as much as their teammates on the 4-on-5 PK, they give up around twice as many powerplay goals (or in Frans "Danish Two-Way Force" Nielsen's case, they give up way over twice as many). They've played enough games and logged enough 4-on-5 minutes now where the above numbers start to mean something. (The final column, GA/60, is total goals against per 60 minutes of 4-on-5 ice time.)
It isn't (or shouldn't be) a shock that better hockey players make for better penalty killers. But often when fans think of a "good defensive forward," they think of a guy who doesn't score but is used shorthanded a lot. Alas, that is more by necessity than by desire: You can neither draft nor pay 12 great hockey players, yet you must use 12 forwards. (And if you shorten your bench consistently, you're asking for other problems down the line.)
By now most coaches should ideally want to deploy their best hockey players on the PK, but the realities of playing their best players in other situations sometimes make that impossible. So you have your Parks and Thompsons, who aren't much good at creating goals but will certainly do everything in their power to prevent them, not shying away from jumping on grenades for the team. Of course, their use on the PK seems to encourage more of the same as they assume "their role" and adopt an identity on a team. The coach keeps going back to them. This game is certainly not all numbers -- there is a psychological and group dynamic element -- so it's not hard to understand how this happens.
Yet as you accumulate better depth, the Thompsons of the world get bumped off the chart. The team overall improves. The same number of minutes in each game is shared by a slightly better group. The PK improves -- or so the theory goes. As several here have already said, Thompson's departure is a sign the team is getting better. (It's also a sign the team is carrying three goalies on the 23-man roster, but that one was unavoidable.)
Stats through 51 Games
So that's that. Just for a different look, here they are ranked by plus-minus. No surprises here:
Any surprises? Who do you think will change by the end of the year? I say Tavares is due for a hot streak sometime between now -- or the Olympic break -- and the end of the year. JT may be our leading scorer yet, though obviously one shouldn't bet against Kyle Okopso.