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Play Of The Day: Lee Lights the Lamp

The Islanders and Penguins get together for a wild night in Brooklyn

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders
Islanders fans love when Anders Lee yawns during live play
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Islanders and Penguins go way back.

The two long-time division rivals have combined for some unforgettable moments: the 0-3 comeback, Tonelli in Game 5, Volek in Game 7, Mario splitting the Red Sea, Crosby doing the same, Volek, Okposo-Niskanen, Tavares' first goal in his first NHL game, Fight Night, Volek, Fleury imploding, Tavares in Game 4 and then of course there’s the matter of David Volek. And whatever else Pens fans might remember fondly (who cares).

So it’s fitting that one of the wackiest Islanders games from last season came against the Penguins in Brooklyn on November 30, 2016.

In this game, the Isles blew a three-goal, third-period lead before scoring the game-winning goal in the final 30 seconds. It was basically the polar opposite of the game detailed in my last post, in which the Islanders came back from a three-goal, third-period deficit against PA’s other team before giving up the game-winning goal in the final 30 seconds.

That's called symmetry. And this is called the Play of the Day. Here's Anders Lee scoring the game-winner on a perfect deflection with 26.6 seconds left in the Isles-Pens game on November 30, 2016.

Please note: I’m changing how I embed these video clips in the hopes of improving their quality and adding playback controls. I welcome any and all feedback in the comments.

What follows is a list of words I have typed for your reading pleasure:

1. Lee's a Beast. That was a perfectly-placed shot/pass by Thomas Hickey and a beauty of a deflection by Lee. Is there anyone better in front of the net than no. 27?

Over the last three seasons, Lee is 6th in the league in total goals scored by deflection with 14. Tops on the list is our old friend, Chris Kreider, who probably celebrated this accomplishment by barreling into the first goalie he could find.

As Travis Yost explains in that article, deflections (or “tip-shots”) on goal are nearly twice as likely to go in (20%) as other types of shots (wrist, snap, backhand). Because it’s the hardest kind of shot to actually get on target, it’s quite valuable to have a player so adept at doing so.

Also, over the last four seasons, Lee has averaged the ninth-shortest shot distance in the league. That is to say, only eight players shoot from closer to the net, on average, than he does.

Lee is the only player in the top ten in both of these categories. So he gets to the net, shoots from in close and is great at deflecting the puck. It’s not hard to see why he’s such a formiddable weapon.

So to answer my question: no, the evidence I have selectively chosen in order to reach this conclusion proves beyond doubt that there is no one better in front of the net than Anders Lee. I have rendered my decision and it is binding.

2. The Comeback. This was not the best game ever played by the Hickey-Hamonic defensive pairing. It was actually their second-best. No, I’m just kidding. This game was a disaster for both guys (Hickey's game-winning assist notwithstanding). They were on the ice for all three Pittsburgh goals, and were made to look bad on two of them. Here’s how the Penguins came back:

2-a. Sheary’s Goal (3-1)

On the one hand, Sidney Crosby is one of the greatest skaters ever, and he had a better jump on this puck than Hamonic. On the other hand, Hamonic - a plus skater himself - had a big enough head start that you’d like him to win this race anyway.

To be clear, I don’t fault Hamonic for making any kind of mistake here. Maybe he could've held the puck in the zone but really, this goal was scored because Crosby out-skated and out-muscled him off the puck. Which happened because he put the cheat code in for 2x turbo boost.

This is what Crosby does: he makes opposing defensemen look bad. No shame in that, Hammer. Anyway, it'll be Hickey's turn in a few minutes.

2-b. Schultz’s Goal (3-2)

Perhaps no Islander sticks out in the defensive zone more than Jason Chimera, and not in a good way. That holds true whether he’s defending the puck-carrier or when he’s defending away from the puck. Here, it's the former, as he follows up his failed clearing attempt with some matador D.

Chimera still has that straight-line speed that’s useful on offensive rushes and the occasional forecheck. But as is evident here, his lateral quickness is lacking. That little one-handed wack is all the contact he could muster on Schultz, and it looks more like an “atta boy, way to blow right by me” stick tap.

At its core, defense often comes down to two things: using your brain and moving your legs. Too often, one or the other fails Chimera. I hope Weight sees him as an extra forward, rather than a bottom-six shoe-in. I’d much rather see all three of Barzal, Beauvillier and Ho-Sang in the lineup.

2-c. Malkin’s Goal (3-3)

The breakdown here was the result of an uncharacteristically irresponsible decision by Hickey to step up on Crosby in the neutral zone. That he got enough of him to break up the play against all but a handful of the most elusive players in the league doesn’t justify his decision to me. It’s a 4-on-4 and you’ve got nos. 71 and 87 lined up opposite you, and they’ve got extra room with which to maneuver. I can appreciate mistakes of aggression but not in such a high-risk/low-reward situation.

By the time Crosby evades Hickey and pokes the puck up to Malkin, Hamonic and Nelson are left scrambling, trying desperately to disrupt the play. They fail hilariously, sure. But this play was all but over when Hickey stepped up and failed to stop puck or man.

3. Pierre. Say what you will about Pierre McGuire, but when he sees an opportunity to kiss Sidney Crosby’s ass, he takes it, no hesitation, no questions asked. I really like that about him. Here's what Pierre said after this goal:

"Quick transition by the Pittsburgh Penguins. This is their strength. And you cannot allow them to dominate through transition in the neutral zone. If you do, you’re gonna die."
- Pierre McGuire

Notice how I put part of this quote in big letters so as to misrepresent the point he was making. That’s kind of messed up, but it’s fun to do. I think you should give it a try some time.

4. Love at First Hat Trick. Sidney Crosby has basically taken a 12-year-long shit on the Islanders. His assist on Malkin's goal was his second of the game and his 100th career point against them (in 57 games), his most against any team.

As of this writing it’s 101 points in 58 regular season games. Throw in nine points in five playoff games and Sidney Crosby has scored 110 points in 63 games against the Islanders. That’s 1.75 points per game. He has absolutely devastated us. It is for this reason I recommend he promptly go fornicate with himself.

5. They Sh*t On Us, Too. What about the goal-scorer, Malkin? Against whom has he scored the most points? It’s the Islanders: 66 points in 53 games (1.3 per game).

And what about Mario Lemieux? Which team did the second-best no. 66 in NHL history dominate the most? The Islanders. 109 points in 54 games (2 per game).

And Jaromir Jagr? Answer: the Islanders. 155 points in 112 games (1.4 per game).

These four players are either in the Hall of Fame or will be. They’ve all scored a bunch of points against a bunch of teams. But in a way, they’re just like us: there’s nothing any of these guys love to see at the rink more than the New York Islanders. Shit, they even put two Islanders on Mario’s Statue.

6. Shift Length. It might not have played a role in the goal, but Hamonic had been on the ice for 46 seconds by the time Malkin scored. It’s right at this point in a shift (40-45 seconds) that a player’s performance significantly starts to decline.

I’ve long been under the impression that guys on this team get stuck on the ice for far too long, far too often. And the numbers bear that out. Last season, the Islanders averaged the second-longest shifts in the league. They were the only team with five players in the top-25 for longest average shift length last season and they were the only team to have five the year before, too. And the year before that, too.

Nick Leddy averaged the longest shifts in the entire league last season at 57.7 seconds. Hamonic was 7th at 54.0 seconds. Five of the 25 longest average shifts for defensemen were Islanders (all above 51 seconds).

Is this a coaching issue? Or is this the cumulative byproduct of the Islanders seemingly getting stuck in their own zone so often? To me it’s the former. If the coach made it a point to keep shifts shorter, they’d be shorter.

Leafs coach Mike Babcock is known for trying to limit shifts to 40 seconds because he believes this keeps players fresher throughout the entire game (and he places an even higher priority on this in the playoffs). He has implemented this strategy in Toronto and it has resulted in a considerable decrease in the length of his players’ shifts.

This might seem like common sense, of course. Fresh players > tired players, whoopdy-doo. But here’s the thing about common sense: it’s not all that common. Doug Weight would be wise to make this a focus moving forward. Because when he took over for Cappy, defensive shifts actually got a little bit longer.

NYI Defense Avg Shift Length (Weight vs Cappy)

Player GP (Tot) Sec/Shift (Tot) GP (JC) Shift (JC) GP (DW) Shift (DW) Diff
Player GP (Tot) Sec/Shift (Tot) GP (JC) Shift (JC) GP (DW) Shift (DW) Diff
Leddy 81 57.7 41 57.6 40 57.9 0.3
Hamonic 49 54.0 35 54.1 14 53.6 -0.5
Boychuk 66 52.1 40 50.7 26 54.2 3.5
de Haan 82 52.3 42 50.4 40 54.2 3.8
Seidenberg 73 52.8 35 51.6 38 53.8 2.2
Hickey 76 48.5 42 48.2 34 48.9 0.7
Pelech 44 51.2 13 49.8 31 51.8 2.0
Mayfield 25 49.3 4 50.0 21 49.2 -0.8
This table is filled with numbers

As we’ve no doubt heard many times before, it’s not just about how many total minutes a guy plays, but the difficulty of those minutes. While there are no Islanders topping the total-time-on-ice list, they’ve consistently taken the longest shifts of any team in the league. Those extra couple of seconds per shift add up to some difficult minutes over the long haul.

Once the season starts, I’ll be keeping my eye on how long Weight keeps his guys out there. Or I’ll just ignore it completely. Either way, you gotta give it to me for that table. That was pretty huge.

7. de Haan Rush. The 4-on-4 during which Malkin scored the game-tying goal was quite an eventful one. Around a minute earlier, Calvin de Haan led a rush up ice that showed what often frustrates me about his game:

Because de Haan never moved the puck up to Ladd, despite having ample opportunity to do so, Ladd had to slow down at the blue line to wait for him. This mitigated his ability to attack at full speed and apply the most pressure. It possibly forced the play offside (and even if it was onside, that was a horrible entry) and it allowed the Pens to get back and converge on the puck.

By the time de Haan gets into better-get-a-shot-off mode, it’s too late. His shot is blocked easily and what started out as a clear odd-man rush ends without a shot-on-goal. This was a wasted opportunity, and he should be ashamed of himself.

8. Of course Ryan Strome could’ve helped a brother out here by staying in front of the back-checking Daley so as to “unintentionally” interfere with his path to de Haan. Instead he peels back as a trailer and Daley reaches de Haan in time to pressure his shot attempt. Strome should be ashamed of himself.

9. I don’t mean to disparage de Haan at all. He’s a very solid second-pair defenseman and I wish the team would’ve locked him up for longer than just one year. This play is just an example of what I feel stands in the way of his being a legit top-pair guy: a lack of offensive polish. It is for this reason I think he could pair quite nicely with Ryan Pulock.

10. Even earlier on the same 4-on-4 came this beautiful deke by Josh Bailey against Phil Kessel:

But take a closer look and you’ll see Kessel was merely distracted:

As we can see, Kessel was mesmerized by the hot dog running by to his right. Once the hot dog went right, Bailey went left. Now, you’re obviously thinking “oh, you just photo-shopped a hot dog in there,” but think about this for a second: what if I didn’t? What if that’s real? Think about that.

11. Trivia. On the faceoff following Lee’s goal, Nikolai Kulemin pounced on the puck in center ice and rifled it into Pittsburgh’s empty net. This tied an NHL record of two goals in three seconds that had only been done twice before (once in 1935, once in 2004).

More importantly, did you know Malkin and Kulemin were born in the same hospital in Magnitogorsk, Russia, within two weeks of each other in July 1986? Because I did know that. Pierre has told me at least 18 times, so I’m pretty much stuck with that information until I die. At the hands of some counter-attacking penguins. Until next time, friends.