Saturday night in Columbus, the Islanders will play their 30th game of the season. And so far, the biggest and most widely-reported stories about the team have been:
- OMG Travis Hamonic wants a trade!
- Why isn't anyone going to Barclays Center?
Topic no. 1 we talked about as it broke and haven't had a lot of updates on since, and topic no. 2 I might have some thoughts on soon.
As for the actual on-ice product, from a macro view, the Islanders - with largely the same roster they had last season - are right about where most observers probably expected them to be: somewhere between third and fourth in the Metropolitan Division, behind the Capitals and Rangers; John Tavares has a bunch of goals, and so does Kyle Okposo; Jaroslav Halak is still pretty good; The fourth line hits a lot.
But under the extreme microscope of the dedicated fan blog, the Islanders have seemed "different" this season, at least from a viewing standpoint. The high-flying circus act from last season's first quarter-plus has been replaced by a more conservative attack buoyed by excellent goaltending.
I wanted to make this one of those cool fancystats articles that are all the rage. But I'm far too stupid and have far too little time. In the meantime, here are a few interesting tidbits I uncovered about what the Islanders looked like at this point last season compared to this season (all numbers from War-on-Ice):
First, A CHART!
Islanders Team Metrics through 29 games
|PP Goals For||16||21|
|PP Goals Against||11||25|
|Score Adj. corsi %||49.80%||52.80%|
|5v5 Scoring Chances/60||27.7||30.1|
|5v5 Scoring Chances Against/60||28||26.5|
Now, some notes:
- Much of the difference in goals against can be attributed to the play of the goalies. Both Halak and newcomer Thomas Greiss have save percentages in the .920's and eight wins apiece. Last season, Halak carried the water with a .930 save percentage, while Chad Johnson hovered around .870, good enough for a ticket to Buffalo at midseason.
- The less said about the Islanders' penalty killing last year, the better. Let's just say they fixed it and move on.
- Incredibly, Nick Leddy is still waiting for his first goal of the season (after getting one taken away by the officials in Philadelphia on Tuesday). He has eight assists right now, but had five goals and nine assists for 14 points to this point last season. His SAC% at 5-on-5 has taken a hit as well; it's down to 50.6 from an unbelievable 59 last season.
- Johnny Boychuk's scoring is more or less the same, but his possession stats are far below what he was doing: Last season: 2-12-14 and an even more unbelievable than Leddy 59.8 5v5 SAC%. This season: 3-9-12, 48.7 SAC%.
- What about the "slumping John Tavares?:" To this point last season, he had 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points. This season? 12 goals and 10 assists for 22 points. That's in two less games, by the way. He finished last season with 86 points, and came within 0.4 seconds of winning his first Art Ross Trophy in case you forgot. His 5v5 SAC% has dropped to 46.6 from 54.3
One of the cliches that we heard often last season was, "well it was fun to watch, but the coaches probably didn't like it." It seems the Islanders have made a concerted effort to eliminate our fun and play a more controlled, coach-approved game. In a recent article in the New York Post, Jack Capuano and Tavares talked about the adjustments the team has made from last season. What sounds like a subtle change to the players has felt like a drastic one to those of us watching.
"You still want to create as many chances as we have in the past," Tavares said, "but it's about creating the right balance and trying to be good at both ends of the ice."
So, what does all this mean? Are they better or worse than last year? Are they destined for another first round knock out or poised to win the Stanley Cup?
I have no idea.
If the plan was to get tighter on the PK and cut down on goals against, then the Islanders are more or less accomplishing what they set out to do. Upgrading to Greiss from Johnson seemed to do a lot of the work for them. Technically, they're giving up more scoring chances against at 5-on-5, but it doesn't always feel that way.
As a viewer and dirty, no-good basement blogger (that at least owns his own basement), I'm okay with trading entertainment value for wins. There's a lot to like about how the Islanders are playing, but a lot to question, too.
Maybe in the next 29 games, this year's version of the team will become more clearly defined.