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Revisiting the New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins 2013 Playoff Series

Or: If only we fixed that one think we don't talk about...

Time now to beef up a certain position, that is.
Time now to beef up a certain position, that is.
Paul Bereswill

The Columbus Blue Jackets have pushed the Pittsburgh Penguins to a best-of-three situation, which shouldn't be a surprise (and isn't to many, but is to some).

For New York Islanders fans, it's reminiscent of where their team was at this time last season, tied 2-2 in the opening round and with the feeling that a "giant" could be slayed.

How close were the Isles to getting it done? (Closer than you might think. Two of their losses came in OT.) What was the missing link? (You surely know.)

Because Extra Skater is making itself more and more awesome by the day, it has now added playoff series screens from 2013 so you can check out the analytic stats there.

Naturally, against my better judgment, I clicked around to look at the Islanders-Penguins first-round matchup and ... oh Bossy, my Bossy, the goaltending.

All Situations


(If'n you click'n, it'll embigg'n.)

You might get the idea, reasonably founded, that all those numbers stack in the Isles' favor (outside of the goaltending) because a lot of time was spent with the Isles playing catch-up, particularly in the Game 1 blowout.

You would be wrong.

5-on-5 Score Close Situations


Even in score-close situations at 5-on-5, the Isles had by far the better of play in every area except the ultimate arbiter: Goalie saves/shooter success. On a series level, even Marc-Andre Fleury's truly epic stumbles did not level the series-long disparity in goaltending and shooting success.

On that note, revisiting our 2013 playoffs post-mortem is illustrative yet painful, for the promise it seemed to foretell and the one glaring weakness that remained:

The defense (including the forwards) suppressed shots against, as they had all season but particularly down the stretch.

Throughout this rebuild the Islanders have been routinely outshot. The 2013 season was the first exception, and it was an exception in a major way. We're talking about a team that was outshot by 4.5 shots per game at the nadir of the rebuild in 2008-09. They trimmed that to half a shot per game in 2011-12, and then completely reversed it in 2013 to the point they outshot the opposition by an average of 2.7 shots per game.

It's no wonder the 2013 edition made the playoffs. And it's no wonder their biggest weakness, in goal, was a sore point many of us worried about back in September.

The Islanders had Evgeni Nabokov, the Penguins had Thomas Vokoun (once Marc-Andre Fleury went kaboom).

You can rightly add a spice of "well but special teams" to this equation, as the Penguins clearly prevailed there. But ultimately that too comes down to stopping the puck. Not enough of it happened. The Islanders lost a close one in six games. It could have gone another way.

Just to twist the knife a little more -- though many Islanders fans, particularly readers here, have been twisting it, removing it, and re-inserting it all 12 months since -- here is how we signed off on last season's playoff series:

Not to beat a dead horse 10 days after elimination, but it should not be a debate what the biggest issue was in the Islanders' first-round loss. And that issue -- tough as it is to crack in an era where there are a handful of elite goalies plus a confusing morass of interchangeable robots who deliver middle-reliever-like performance swings -- is also their biggest offseason need.

The Isles then entered the next season with the same setup in net. That setup gave them a .894 save percentage, the worst in the NHL. They did not return to the playoffs.