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Islanders Game Notes: Neutral Zone Trapping, Power Play Passing and a Pinch of Perfection

Observations from the Islanders’ first three games of the 2018-19 season

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NHL: New York Islanders at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Hello and welcome to a new series in which I will write down some of my observations from the latest Islanders games. This will not necessarily be a list of “key plays” or “turning points” but more a list of completely random and sometimes-obscure observations.

So here are a few things I noticed from the Islanders’ first three games of the season.

1. It’s a Trap.

A few weeks ago, I speculated on the structural changes Barry Trotz might implement with the Islanders this season. I looked at the 1-1-3 neutral zone trap he had the Capitals playing last season in their extremely unfortunate Stanley Cup run.

The Caps’ perfect execution of this tactic helped them suffocate the potent offenses of Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Vegas in the final three rounds. This included shutting out the the NHL’s top offensive team, Tampa, in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

So it made sense to wonder whether Trotz would employ the trap with the Islanders. After all, it’s a defensive system and the Islanders were the league’s worst defensive team last season. Furthermore, the main purpose of the trap is to prevent the opposing team from carrying the puck into your zone, an area in which the Islanders struggled mightily last season.

It would appear as though Trotz has done just that. I noticed this at different points of the Isles’ 4-0 win over the Sharks on Monday. There were several instances where the Islanders dropped a forward back to serve as a third defenseman along the blue line, to prevent the Sharks from entering their zone.

Here’s one example from the first period. Watch how Barzal drops back after losing this neutral zone faceoff to essentially serve as a third defenseman. The F1, Bailey, angles the Sharks towards the middle of the ice, where the F2 (Beauvillier) and the rest of the Islanders await. The Sharks are unable to penetrate the trap; the Isles force a turnover and transition back to the offensive zone (where Barzal promptly draws a penalty).

This was beautifully done by the Islanders. Seriously, I just loved seeing this play.

Now, it’s not necessarily the center that hangs back in the neutral zone. It’s whichever forward is in the best position to do so. Here’s another example, this time with left winger Anders Lee serving as the third man back:

Once again, the Sharks are unable to slice through the Islanders’ trap and enter their zone. The Isles force another turnover and go on the counterattack, ultimately spending some time in the offensive zone. Perfectly executed stuff here.

2. Cross-Ice Power Play Passing between Barzal and Bailey.

The Islanders’ power play (PP) has looked good through the first three games. The driving force behind that PP is obviously Mathew Barzal and his exceptional playmaking ability from the left half-wall. Everything runs through him.

Standing on the opposite side of the ice, at the right faceoff dot, has been Josh Bailey, a very good passer in his own right. Seemingly every prime scoring chance the Islanders have generated on the PP so far this season has been the direct result of a beautiful cross-ice pass between these Bailey and Barzal.

Here are a bunch of those beautiful seam passes between nos. 12 and 13:

These passes cross what has come to be known as the “Royal Road” - the imaginary line running down the center of the ice (from one goal to the other). Passes that cross the Royal Road result in the most dangerous shots in hockey and recipients of these passes put up considerably higher shooting percentages.

As we’ve all heard countless times, there’s nothing more difficult for a goalie than having to move from side-to-side to make a save. If Barzal and Bailey can continue completing these passes to each other, the Islanders will continue scoring goals.

3. A Pinch of Pelech Can be a Good Thing.

I was pretty hard on Adam Pelech last season. That’s because he regularly exhibited terrible judgment when pinching in from the point. He consistently left his teammates hung out to dry by taking absurd risks with no chance for success. His obliviousness led to tons of odd-man rushes against which, in turn, led to tons of broken remotes and computer mice in my living room.

Though I have noticed Pelech make at least a couple of these same poor decisions through these first three games, I’ve also noticed something else. During the second period of the 4-3 loss to Nashville, Pelech pinched in from the point to help keep the puck in the offensive zone.

Let me repeat that once more for you.

During the second period of the Nashville game, Adam Pelech pinched in from the point to keep the puck in the offensive zone.

Here’s the proof:

Does Pelech do anything special on this play? No, he doesn’t. But he doesn’t do anything completely irresponsible and reckless when given the opportunity, either. That’s quite encouraging to see. He helps keep this puck in the offensive zone, and when Nashville starts to break out a few moments later on Pelech’s side of the ice, he chooses to get back on defense rather than attempt a second (and totally ill-advised) pinch.

Simply phenomenal work here by the Cobra.

So there you have it, folks.

Let me close by saying that this is my favorite time of the NHL season. The Islanders are 2-1 and I can convince myself that there’s still a wide range of possibilities for this team.

The Islanders have yet to go on an extended, six-game losing streak. They've yet to hold a players-only meeting. They've yet to suffer a devastating injury. They've even yet to concede a PP goal. There’s yet to be all sorts of shit we’re sure to see in short order.

The entire season still lies ahead. So enjoy this feeling right now, Islanders fans. Enjoy every single minute of it...

...while you still can.

Until next time.