After the New York Islanders' win against Washington two weeks ago, the Islanders had a special distinction: They were first in the league in score adjusted schedule adjusted corsi. In other words, when you took the Isles' schedule into account, they were playing the best hockey of ANYONE in the National Hockey League.
The six games since then featured the Isles not only playing nowhere near that level, but pretty badly being outplayed. In fact the last THREE games have featured the Isles taking a lead in the first period in terms of possession and then collapsing in the remaining 40 minutes.
Yes, three - this happened against the Senators as well. You could also throw in the game against the Devils to start this stretch, although that meltdown happened in the third and could be better explained as a tired, injured team shelling for dear life in its sixth game in nine days.
The above graphs are the shot attempt graphs (Corsi) for the last three games, courtesy of hockeystats.ca. The pattern is clear: starting with the Sens game, the Islanders for three straight games have basically put up zero offense from the 30-minute mark in the hockey game and sometimes before that (vs the Blues), with the puck constantly in their own zone.
They are being dominated, not simply beaten. This isn't explainable simply with score effects, which predict the Isles would lose the shot battle by a little; this is getting beaten the crap out of, and the Isles are continuing this pattern even after opponents tie the game.
So what's the cause of this? Let's see if we can figure it out:
1. Injuries along the Blue Line
For two of the three above games, and most of this stretch, the Isles are down Boychuk, Hamonic and (except for this past game) Visnovsky. So some dropoff is pretty much expected. That said, there's no reason for this dropoff to look like the above - it should make the Islanders a worse team overall, not only affect them in the final half of games.
Moreover, even when these losses wouldn't be felt - with Hicknovsky vs the Wild, with Leddy-anyone in the other two games, the numbers are down in the 2nd period - Leddy and Donovan in those 2 games had a 45% corsi, and that was GOOD for the team. The entire team is having issues getting out of their zone, with top lines being equally responsible as bottom lines, every d-pair getting slugged, etc.
Yeah, this doesn't pass the sniff test as a direct cause of the problem.
2. Damn Brian Strait!
Brian Strait is rightfully a target of hate for Isles fans for not being very good. On the other hand...he's not really the problem. Strait's corsi was terrible vs the Wild, but above 50% vs the other two teams. He's not a good player but he alone isn't enough to cause this. Strait isn't Mike Mottau.
Griffin Reinhart isn't the issue either by the way, with the team playing just under 50% hockey these three games. I don't think he looks good personally, but statistically, he's not the problem.
3. The Isles have Switched Systems and it's Backfiring
So the D injuries aren't the direct cause of the problem. I suspect however that they may indirectly be the cause. In other words, I suspect the Isles and Jack Capuano have decided to play far more conservatively with the lead than they would have done with these guys in the lineup and it's been disastrous.
Unfortunately, I haven't tracked most of these games, and well, the Isles have been still carrying it in when I've been tracking. But what's happening it seems is the Isles are constantly losing the entry battle, with opponents bringing it back into our zone (often by dump) immediately after it goes out.
In the Wild game, it looks like the Isles were constantly flipping the puck out of the zone to get the puck out, and thus conceding the puck back to the Wild for a chance to change. This has not worked well. Moreover, the Isles seem far more conservative and slow in the D Zone, like they are on the PK. Again, this has not worked very well.
I don't have statistical evidence to prove this one, but it feels right to me as the only possible explanation for why the Isles still keep looking like themselves for the first periods, before melting down thereafter. It's strategic, only it's gone horribly horribly wrong.
So Fire Cappy right?
I wouldn't go this far. It's tempting to blame the coach whenever things turn on their head, and Cappy makes it easy sometimes. And if this is strategic, obviously a good bit of blame falls on him. But Cappy has managed teams for two years now which seem to figure things out later in seasons, and put together great runs even after shaky middles. The Isles have a big leg up on third place in the Metro right now - 8 points - and if Cappy got the team running smoothly for 23 games - which he DID - there's no reason to think he can't fix it.
If this is still a problem against New Jersey, Detroit and Tampa next week, then you can start to worry. This week concludes with the game in St Louis and then against the best team in the league in Chicago, so don't expect dominance to return so quickly even if Cappy fixes things.
And maybe if the Isles don't grab a lead early this doesn't happen again. I wouldn't say to panic just yet.