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The Numbers Behind the New York Islanders Awful Penalty Kill

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Looking at the Islanders penalty kill data, the numbers flatter few -- and mostly the guys who are used the least.

Is it in the net?  Of course it's in the net.
Is it in the net? Of course it's in the net.
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The season started. Fans were generally pretty stoked with the new additions to the New York Islanders lineup. With the likes of Nikolay Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski, Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk to a developing core of young players it was easy to understand why, but even those that have thought the team would excel have to be quite pleased with the results. The team is in first place in the Metropolitan Division and fighting for the Eastern Conference.

But there's one fatal flaw to the team's hopes - the stinking, ugly, no good, very bad, atrocious, awful penalty kill.

It almost started out like a joke. A goal in three penalties here, a goal in four penalties there - certainly it would eventually regress to somewhere around league average. Said joke got less and less funny as the unit somehow got worse over the course of the season, drifting between 27th and last for the entire year. Even in wins, individuals become increasingly frustrated with the less than lackluster performance of the P.K. specialists.

Now with over three quarters of the season up, fans are anxious over the blight that is the penalty kill in a season that has otherwise been magnanimous for those who have suffered for over two decades without a playoff series victory.

So where exactly did the team go wrong?  What are the chances that the team improves to something that is at least serviceable in time for the playoffs? And the most important point for Islanders fans with pitchforks: Who is to blame?

First, compare the team to other teams and the difference between this season and last season.

2014-2015- Fenwick against, Shots against, and goals +/- are per two minutes of penalty kill time.
Value Rank
Team TOI FA SA G+/- OSv% FA SA G+/- OSv%
CAR 258.9 2.217 1.506 -.124 .908 3 4 1 2
MIN 277.6 2.140 1.441 -.137 .885 1 1 2 9
PIT 339.1 2.772 2.064 -.142 .920 29 29 3 1
VAN 335.8 2.150 1.483 -.143 .888 2 2 4 8
NYR 275.7 2.234 1.494 -.145 .864 4 3 5 22
CHI 264.2 2.483 1.794 -.151 .907 18 19 6 3
TOR 315.1 2.577 1.745 -.171 .876 24 16 7 13
MTL 303.4 2.446 1.721 -.171 .897 16 13 8 5
T.B 309.3 2.690 1.927 -.175 .893 28 26 9 6
BOS 308.2 2.440 1.713 -.175 .879 15 12 10 10
COL 319.1 2.576 1.887 -.175 .897 23 24 11 4
ANA 325.1 2.399 1.679 -.185 .872 12 10 12 16
OTT 319.8 2.427 1.745 -.188 .878 13 15 13 12
NSH 299.5 2.270 1.643 -.194 .870 7 8 14 19
WPG 414.8 2.329 1.697 -.198 .864 9 11 15 23
DET 311.1 2.475 1.742 -.199 .878 17 14 16 11
DAL 318.2 2.533 1.810 -.201 .865 20 21 17 21
S.J 258.3 2.431 1.758 -.201 .868 14 17 18 20
CBJ 340.3 2.662 2.069 -.206 .892 26 30 19 7
WSH 321.1 2.560 1.775 -.218 .874 22 18 20 14
L.A 292.6 2.290 1.572 -.219 .839 8 7 21 26
N.J 337.7 2.399 1.836 -.219 .871 11 23 22 18
CGY 219 2.237 1.507 -.219 .836 5 5 23 27
STL 307.1 2.240 1.563 -.228 .850 6 6 24 25
EDM 263.9 2.493 1.796 -.235 .852 19 20 25 24
ARI 322.7 2.845 2.045 -.242 .873 30 28 26 15
FLA 298.5 2.539 1.923 -.248 .871 21 25 27 17
BUF 323.3 2.685 1.819 -.285 .827 27 22 28 29
PHI 314.6 2.384 1.678 -.286 .830 10 9 29 28
NYI 250.5 2.603 1.932 -.287 .822 25 27 30 30

The penalty kill isn't just bad. It's abhorrent had has absolutely no redeeming value.

The team ranks 25th in unblocked shot attempts, 27th in shots on goal, 30th in save percentage and 30th in goal differential. With regards to the goal differential, there is a huge difference between 27th and 26th and the boys from Long Island are at the last of those three with not much room to improve. Many have pointed to the goaltending which obviously has been bad, but the team hasn't been doing the goaltending any favors.

What is the potential to improve?

With a 166-attempt sample size, the team has allowed 43 goals, good for about 74.1 percent and last in the league. That's not a great survey size, but that still puts the margin of error at about 6.66 percent for an upper confidence level of 77.4 percent for the rest of the year.  If the team were to run at that rate for the rest of the season that would bring their totals up to just a hair above 75 percent, which would put them at 26th for the season. That would mean that they'd still be a very bad penalty kill and it would require quite a leap in performance

What about the shorthanded goals?

The Islanders rank second in shorthanded goals just behind the Dallas Stars. Once that's factored in, the team is third from last in penalty killing at 79.1 percent. At the upper confidence level, that would put the team at 82 percent and would bring the team up to 79.8 percent for the season.

That would put the team at... 26th overall. That's not really an improvement. Without a significant change, the team is going to be bad on the penalty kill.

So who can fix it?  First, a look at the forwards:

2011-2015 Values 2011-2015 Rankings
Name 2014-2015 TOI TOI SCA2 CA2 FF2 SA2 GA2 SCA2 CA2 FF2 SA2 GA2
Frans Nielsen 98.8 559.8 1.747 3.229 2.437 1.820 .300 154 99 111 135 178
Nikolay Kulemin 96.8 428.4 1.684 3.497 2.576 1.812 .257 135 154 146 131 162
Cal Clutterbuck 82.5 387.7 1.626 3.159 2.369 1.729 .258 112 83 84 98 165
Casey Cizikas 72.7 282.2 1.922 3.609 2.695 1.845 .283 178 165 168 143 175
Brock Nelson 55.8 112.3 1.703 3.256 2.424 1.726 .214 142 105 101 97 98
Ryan Strome 48 49.3 1.663 2.892 2.089 1.444 .243 125 21 13 13 145
Michael Grabner 23.4 382.6 1.434 2.790 2.123 1.544 .220 32 9 20 34 108
Josh Bailey 7.9 202.6 1.412 3.019 2.346 1.651 .188 26 43 75 71 54
John Tavares 2.6 26.5 1.426 2.740 2.068 1.313 .000 29 6 12 2 1
Matthew Martin 2 230.7 1.717 3.393 2.544 1.787 .277 147 133 139 124 172
Harry Zolnierczyk 1.8 12.4 1.871 3.210 2.403 1.452 .323 173 96 94 13 180
Kyle Okposo 1.5 25.6 1.453 2.672 2.203 1.273 .234 36 3 38 1 132
Anders Lee 0.8 1.6 .000 2.500 .000 .000 .000 1 1 1 1 1
Colin McDonald 0.6 26.4 1.235 2.841 2.402 1.364 .303 1 12 93 3 180
Mikhail Grabovski 0.3 23 2.165 3.513 2.852 2.243 .435 180 155 178 180 180
Eric Boulton 0 2.3 2.261 5.130 4.261 1.739 .000 180 180 180 106 1
Cory Conacher 0 2.4 7.417 7.417 7.417 6.500 .833 180 180 180 180 180

The rankings are of the top 180 players in minutes over the past four seasons. Obviously there's a bit of a breakdown in who is being used and who are the best players for the job. Grabner's injuries change things a bit, but most of these guys are bad on the penalty kill. Some of the numbers are quite eye-opening as to why the team is failing so miserably.

Clutterbuck is the best of the four most-used players ranking in the top half in Corsi and Fenwick attempts against, but still substandard in shots against, scoring chances against and goals against. Cizikas is an awful penalty killer and hopefully Grabner being back ends his tenure there, but he never should have been there in the first place. Nielsen does not rank in the top half in any statistical category and really shouldn't be on the penalty kill either, while Kulemin is also pretty bad despite the short handed goals that he's put forth.

Interestingly enough Clutterbuck is the only one in the top four in minutes this year that's amongst the best penalty killers.  Strome has been great in his limited sample size on the penalty kill, but his minutes have mostly been displaced. Bailey is an above average penalty killer, but has seen just a shade under eight minutes on the penalty kill. He's a much better penalty killer than power play guy, but the staff has failed to recognize that. Brock Nelson isn't great on the penalty kill, but he's been better than Nielsen.

When it comes to the forwards, the personnel is there, but the staff hasn't really used them properly. The defensive core is a different story.

2011-2015 Values 2011-2015 Rankings
Name 2014-2015 TOI TOI SCA2 CA2 FF2 SA2 GA2 SCA2 CA2 FF2 SA2 GA2
Thomas Hickey 111.7 311.7 1.573 3.007 2.259 1.661 .269 77 30 40 71 166
Travis Hamonic 95.6 599.3 1.749 3.417 2.530 1.766 .277 142 138 132 109 170
Johnny Boychuk 93.6 586.5 1.546 3.088 2.288 1.685 .211 64 40 50 76 84
Calvin De Haan 92.4 178.1 1.957 3.460 2.639 1.893 .303 175 146 157 151 174
Brian Strait 63.5 218.3 1.743 3.368 2.529 1.690 .211 142 126 131 78 80
Nick Leddy 35.5 143.4 1.746 3.437 2.803 2.114 .377 142 139 172 178 178
Griffin Reinhart 3.9 3.9 3.641 6.103 4.615 3.590 .513 180 180 180 180 180
Lubomir Visnovsky 2.8 46.3 1.222 2.479 1.857 1.508 .173 1 1 1 15 19
Matt Donovan 2.3 42.7 1.602 2.937 2.155 1.372 .328 87 22 19 4 176

Hickey and Boychuk are the best regularly playing penalty killers and that probably doesn't come as a surprise. What might come as the largest surprise is that Visnovsky might be a key in a bad penalty kill.Those numbers in limited minutes are very good and most of that has been spent in close situations.  Donovan also comes in at a bit of a surprise, but seems to have had bad luck (or placement) as it doesn't carry over to the goals against column.

The pairing of Hamonic and de Haan hasn't been very good as a penalty killing tandem. While they're widely regarded as the defensive tandem, that doesn't hold true in this case. Reinhart saw rather terrible results in his tiny 3.9 minute sample size, while Leddy isn't exactly a penalty kill expert himself.

If there's a case for Strait, it's on the penalty kill in those limited minutes as the shots and goals against are okay, but other shot metrics aren't there and the scoring chance numbers are basically even with Hamonic and de Haan.

Single season sample sizes are really too small to get an idea as to who is doing what with the minutes, which is why four years were tallied up. The personnel on the penalty kill obviously isn't stellar, but it's also being misused quite a bit, particularly in the case of the forwards.

People have obviously seen the issues with the penalty kill beyond just the players as well. Their diamond strategy too often transforms into a straight line perpendicular to the goal line, people are wide open on the sides, and the opposing team capitalizes.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Ultimately the problems with the P.K. probably come down to the coaching staff. The players best suited for the task are often left on the bench for guys who have routinely failed. The numbers have been bad for the entire season, the goaltending has been poor, and there is very little chance of improvement short of a complete overhaul.

Heads probably should have rolled a long time ago, but this late in the season it would be hard pressed to implement any major changes. Fans will likely be stuck with the torment that is the Islanders penalty kill, and hopefully it doesn't derail what could be their best chance at playoff advancement in over two decades.

Hopefully.