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New York Islanders 1st Quarter Report Card: C students

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The Islanders have been an average team through one quarter of 2015-16, which is far below the expectations they've set.

Dear Parents: NYIsles is no troublemaker, but he is falling short of his potential.
Dear Parents: NYIsles is no troublemaker, but he is falling short of his potential.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Given the discussion around the team and its uninspiring record through the first 21 games of 2015-16, it's no surprise we'd give them at best a C+ grade on their first-quarter report card. It's early to declare full-season trends, but not too early to make this first quarter a milepost from which to track how things go from here.

Standings and Schedule Numbers
  • At 10-8-3, by points they are tied for 14th overall in the league and a wild card playoff spot in the East. (Fellow wild card candidates Boson and New Jersey also have 23 points and a game in hand.)
  • Their goal difference of +6 is top-10, but in a cloud of second-tier teams ranked fifth (+8) to 16th (even).
  • In the schedule, their home-heavy opening has not been great, as they're only 6-4-2 at Barclays Center in its inaugural hockey season.
  • That means they're 4-4-1 on the road, befitting a meh quarter.
  • Streak-wise, the Isles have had a four-game win streak (early in October, though it wasn't four solid games), and one three-game winless streak (0-1-2) that bridged October and November. They've lost two regulation games in a row on two occasions, each time involving the bastards from Montreal.
Hockey Card Stats

Islanders leaders after 21 games 2015-16

Via islanders.nhl.com

No surprise who's on top of the scoring leaderboard, Mr. Franchise, Lord and Savior, Johnny T.

Meanwhile:

  • Frans Nielsen picked up some of the slack, especially when John Tavares was out ill.
  • Brock Nelson has recovered from a slow start to reel off some goals.
  • Kyle Okposo has an inverse Cy Young season so far with four goals and 14 assists.
  • Otherwise, the production is fairly spread out.
  • Seeing Thomas Hickey with two goals in four games is a reminder of just how much time he's missed after being Mr. Ironman his previous two seasons.
Usage

Isles 15-16 1st Quarter

Via war-on-ice

Here's one of those lovely charts from war-on-ice that packs a lot of relative info from 5-on-5 into a box. Size of the circles is ice time, left to right is percentage of offensive zone draws (Hickey's and Tavares' extremes kind of skew the scale here), and shading of blue (good) or pink (bad) is relative Corsi results.

Nothing much to say here -- not much is surprising -- but it marks things after one quarter. And reinforces that, however one feels about the handling of Ryan Strome then and now, his results were insufficient on many fronts.

As for the line combos and pairings:

  • After much mixing to address struggles early on, the Isles have recently settled on Nelson-Tavares-Okposo, Lee-Nielsen-Bailey, and Kulemin-Grabovski-13thF as their top nine.
  • As depicted in that bubble chart above, Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck remain inseparable.
  • The banishéd Ryan Strome may be returning soon, Newsday's Laura Albanese reports after conversations with Jack "It's Still Garth's Decision, But..." Capuano.
  • The top four pairings were broken up and remain so, with Johnny Boychuk and Calvin de Haan together, Travis Hamonic with Nick Leddy. For the third pairing, Hickey may be back as early as this weekend.
Neutral Zone Work: Pretty OK

After a concerning start in their underlying "possession" numbers, garik16 dug deeper into specifically their neutral zone play after 19 games -- essentially, how successfully and through which tactic they gain the offensive zone, and how well they keep opponents from doing the same.

The results through 19 games were, well, neutral -- albeit better than things looked in the early going:

In short, the team is making nearly as many entries into the opposing zone as their opponents are making into the Isles' own zone (the Isles trail 1217 to 1215), but the team is heavily denying opponents the ability to make controlled entries - entering the Isles' zone by carry-in or pass-in. The Isles aren't carrying in a lot themselves (43% isn't very good), but their carry-in defense has been excellent.

Garik16 thought there were signs to believe improvement will come as the season goes on, and it's safe to say the season will otherwise be a disappointment.

5-on-5 Score-Adjusted Shots: An Average Team

As in previous years, the Islanders tend to be a high-event team. They still create a lot of shots -- although not as frequently as last season -- but also give up their share.

I hesitate to get too religious about graphical representations of numerical concepts that reflect on-ice chaos over different months and lineups, but this snapshot from HockeyViz gives a fair picture of where the Isles are in their last 25 games (so, going back into the end of last season):

Last 25 games 1st Quarter

From HockeyViz.com

In the middle. In score-adjusted shots/60, they're a little above average in shots for, a little below average in shots conceded. In raw non-adjusted numbers, they're the reverse.

Bright Spot: Goalies

1st quarter goalies

Via HockeyViz.com

Special teams numbers are volatile due to small samples, but you can see there that Jaroslav Halak has had better results/luck while shorthanded.

More importantly, at full strength aside from Jaroslav Halak's last game against Montreal, he's been pretty good. They aren't losing games because of him. Thomas Greiss -- in great relief to Islanders fans who have watched goalie struggles over the last decade -- has been even better as the backup.

They aren't delivering game-changing Lundqvist- or Price-level performances, but you knew that already. For them to be in the good section of "average" is about the best we can expect.

Special Teams: Up, Down, Meh

Over the long haul you want to look at shot generation/prevention on special teams, but the Isles' season has been so interesting we'll take a look at their raw production percentages: After opening the season very hot on the power play, clicking at upwards of 25% of the time, their power play has fallen off a cliff, down to 16%.

Likewise, the penalty kill that started off eliminating more than 90% of opponents power plays has fallen back to 81.8% -- still top half, but not the "31 killed and counting" run they were on early in the season.

Where From Here?

And that all gets to the picture of what has been a C-average team thus far. When the special team performance was great, it and the goaltending was propping up poor even-strength work. Now that the even-strength play has rebounded, the special teams have likewise regressed.

Playoff projections 1Q

Via HockeyViz

They are still good enough, and promising enough, for us to expect a playoff spot if things go right -- or rather, if nothing disastrous happens on the injury front.

But rather than fighting again for home ice and even a division title, it looks like their destiny -- again, it's only in the first quarter, but this is the path so far -- lies with a second tier of teams that should be playoff teams but are no sure bets.

That's fine for a year or two ago. But in 2015, both fans and team expect more.