The Islanders stand this weekend at 3rd/4th place (Pitt will overtake them with games in hand) in the Metro with 17 points in 14 games. That's a respectable total - even despite a 5-game stretch where the team only managed 4 points.
The Penalty kill is in fact genuinely great, a massive change from last year (they've been lucky with amazing goaltending, but are allowing the least amount of shots against per 60 so far in the entire league). The goaltending has been solid despite Halak being out for the first few games.
Yet, clearly there are some major problems with this team underneath the surface. Take a look at the following two graphs - the top one showing the team's shot (corsi) differential over the 14-15 season and the second one showing the same differential over this season so far.
Graph courtesy of Micah Blake McCurdy and his website: hockeyviz.com.
As you can see, last year the team started around average in shot/possession numbers, before emerging onto a few stretches of dominance (that's where the grey line massively overtakes the red). This year, the opposite - the team looked good for a few games before being outshot repeatedly. The last few games have honestly been BETTER (until Montreal, which was a tough opponent on the road), but not by nearly as much as one would have expected from this team.
So what's going on? Why is this team being consistently outshot? I wish I could point to one problem, but unfortunately, there's more than one. Let's start with one not quite as talked about as it should be:
Leddy and Boychuk have been lousy defensemen
Last year's dominance was led in large part by the emergence of a dominant d-pairing: Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk:
This graph (again from hockeyviz.com) works the same as the above team graph, and shows the performance of Johnny Boychuk through last year* and thus basically shows the performance of 2-55. From the start, the pairing dominated the shot totals, basically not having a rough stretch till the last 22 games of the season and even there, the pair succeeded more often than not. The Isles could count on icing that pair out there night after night and getting plenty of offensive zone time (and less defensive zone time) out of it, which of course helped the team even when the two weren't on the ice.
*Boychuk's #s are shown because it basically always shows the 2-55 pair, while Leddy's graph showcases some time with other players while Boychuk was hurt.
This year on the other hand:
That's a ridiculous amount of red. Not coincidentally, the trend is very similar to that of the whole team - the pairing has been getting caved in until recently, where it's basically treading even. This pairing never was this bad over such a stretch at any time last year. If the Isles are to succeed, this can't be happening, this pairing was paid big this offseason because it was dominant last year and was being counted on to be dominant. It's been the opposite of that so far.
Why is this? Well the pairing is getting less offensive zone draws than last year, but that difference does not come close to explaining the drop this year (and some of this is due to the team as a whole taking less offensive zone draws, which is partially both 2 and 55's fault!). The players on the ice are also the same. Leddy is still carrying into the offensive zone at a crazy rate just like last year (through the 12 games I have tracked at this point), so it's hard to see style of play really being a big factor. But the pairing has just been bad - closer to Brian Strait than Travis Hamonic.
The result is that the Isles have had just one ok D pairing in Hamonic-deHaan, and two bad ones. Now there's no reason this SHOULD continue - the longer sample of these two players is that of a dominant pairing, and any loss of ability from Boychuk getting slightly older should be balanced out by Leddy getting more experience while still in his prime. But it's a major problem that was never encountered at any point last year. And with the Isles icing Strait every night, it cannot continue.
Missing: Ryan Strome
The Isles came into this season with a first line of John Tavares flanked by Ryan Strome and Anders Lee. Strome and Lee had 1 and a quarter incredible NHL seasons to this point, both in getting shots on goal, scoring goals, and driving play.
The combo didn't work - a 47.6%* corsi is bad for any line, nevertheless one with a zone-start percentage of 73.7%! Being outshot while getting nearly three times as many offensive zone faceoff draws as defensive draws is just awful, particularly for that amount of talent.
*Line Stats courtesy of http://www.puckalytics.com/superwowy.html
And this was the problem line to start! Both other skill lines to start had okay #s at least - line 2 (NOB) was at around 52% corsi while the Nelson-Grabbo-Kulemin line was at 50%.
But at least John Tavares and Anders Lee were scoring and putting pucks on net. Tavares' individual shot #s are basically the same as last year, while Lee's #s are down in attempts but only down a smidgen (one shot) in terms of shots on net. Ryan Strome on the other hand:
5v5 Individual Shot Attempts/60, 14-15: 13.41
5v5 Individual Shot Attempts/60, 15-16: 8.44
5v5 SOG 14-15: 8.68
5v5 SOG 15-16: 4.22
Yikes! Strome is taking a third less shots than last year and getting HALF as many shots on net this year. He's getting less shots on net than Josh Bailey of all people. So he's being outshot and not taking shots himself. That's the reason why Strome is being demoted.
Conclusion: Many Sources of Concern
Basically the Isles' failures so far have been many different players at once. That's very disheartening. On the other hand, you'd think that can't continue, right? I came into writing this article looking for an answer to these struggles. But it's kind of dumbfounding - it's multiple players struggling for seemingly no reason whatsoever.
Only time will tell. I think there's too much talent for this to continue. Leddy-Boychuk in particular has to get better. Course if it doesn't, this team will go downhill fast.