This week we will be taking a break from any shift-tracking stats, as those numbers build up.... All stats in this article are from Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise stated.
One thing to keep in mind when evaluating the first seven games for the New York Islanders is their level of competition to start the season. Five of their seven games have been against arguably elite opponents (SJS x2, NSH x2, CAR), at least in terms of 5v5 ability, while the other two games (ANA, LAK) were on the road, one of which was a second of back-to-back that ended around 1 a.m. eastern time.
It hasn’t been the most favorable couple weeks of the season for the Isles, so a 3-4-0 start and zero goal-differential (tied with PIT for 9th in East, while 11 NHL teams are -3 and worse) is certainly not terrible, despite the 1-3-0 recent road trip. Here is a chart that Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) posted Sunday morning, showing that CAR and SJS are each off to great starts in terms of out-shooting opponents.
If you can believe it, SJS’s 62% CF at 5v5 (S+V adjusted) in their 0-4 loss to NYI is actually their 2nd lowest mark in their first 8 games (lowest was 56% @NJD), while two of their other contests (vs ANA and @PHI) the Sharks actually scored slightly higher than the 67% they did vs NYI in their 4-1 victory over Isles.
Similarly, CAR appear to be close to 60% for 5v5 shots after their dominating (69%) opener against NYI. In other words, SJS and CAR would still be in the upper right corner of the above chart without including their domination of NYI at 5v5.
Nashville is more of a mixed bag to start the season, but they did finish 4th among NHL teams last season for 5v5 S+V adjusted CF%, so their regulation wins over NYI (52% and 56% CF, and more dominant in terms of scoring chances at 5v5) were disappointing, but not very surprising.
It will be interesting to see how the Isles fare against a couple middle-of-the-pack teams this week, in FLA and PHI, after good performances against questionable competition in Anaheim (without C1 Getzlaf) and Los Angeles (without C1 Kopitar). I still tend to think the Islanders are going to play below-average hockey at 5v5 this season, but I do not think we can conclude much from these seven games, especially with Devon Toews and / or Josh Ho-Sang (among others in the AHL) each capable of making a positive impact at some point this season.
Let’s take a look at how the East sits as of Monday morning. This is according to games above/below NHL.500. It is a good way to view the standings, because (in essence) it credits teams with one point for each game-in-hand, while teams near the playoff bubble tend to average ~ 1.0 to 1.2 points-per-game. In other words, this is a good approximation of the playoff picture, if the top eight teams in the East are to make the playoffs (as is usually the case):
3 TOR, MTL
2 BOS, OTT, NJD, PIT
1 BUF, CAR, CBJ, WSH
-1 NYI, FLA
The Canadiens and Senators are off to surprisingly good starts, while some would say the Devils or Sabres are as well. The Panthers are perhaps the only team in a surprisingly bad position (1-2-3), while the Red Wings (1-5-2, with a -17 goal-differential) can only improve.
The Goaltending: 5v5
For reference, here is last season: 5v5 save percentage (Y-axis) relative to corsia’s expected save percentage (x-axis). I inserted a break-even line. We can see that (a) Bobrovsky was in a league of his own, (b) Greiss was bad, along with Darling, Price, and OTT’s Anderson, and (c) the rest of the East goalies were fairly close to expected for save percentage. Halak performed a bit above expected at 5v5, while Lehner was below what was expected.
This season, Lehner is off to a very good start at 5v5. (He is buried under Lundqvist and Kinkaid on the chart below.) Halak has the best start of East goalies by these stats, while Bobrovsky looks to be edging out Howard for the worst start (farthest from that break-even line).... But it is very, very early. This chart will no-doubt look a lot different in two weeks, when we likely re-visit it.
The Power Play
There has been some criticism of the Isles’ power play early on, but the underlying numbers for 5v4 rates are encouraging, as the Islanders are top-5 (of all 31 NHL teams) in SOGs rate, scoring-chance shot attempts rate, and high-danger scoring-chance shot attempts rate (this last one is basically shots from Lee-territory, as we’ll see below).
Yet NYI finds itself 23rd in the league in terms of actual goals-for rate. They have been somewhat unlucky on the power play. Here is a GIF of all of the locations of unblocked shots NYI’s first unit (common players) has taken on the power play. These are courtesy @pflynnhockey. You can find all of his interactive NHL charts HERE.
I posted the still images on the bottom of this article for each player in PP1 and PP2 (as well as separate units).
We can see, above, that Lee (in particular) and Barzal are each taking some shots in scoring-chance area. Anders Lee is one of three NHLers with 10+ individual HDCFs (shot attempts from crease and lower slot area) at 5v4: 15 for Wayne Simmonds, 14 for Lee, and 12 for Jamie Benn. At times Josh Bailey has looked threatening on the power play as well, as opponents try to close down Barzal opposite Bailey. Eventually it would be good to add a shooting threat up high, to stretch out the opposing PKers, opening up more space for Lee, Barzal, and others to work down low.
A Bit about the Penalty Kill
Next time we’ll take a look at the 4v5 penalty kill (as well as more individual player stats), when we have more data. While the penalty kill hasn’t been great, it does appear to be much improved from last season’s, when it finished last in the NHL in some major categories, such as SOGs-against, goals-against, and scoring-chance shot attempts against (31st in terms of rates).
Summary: the 4v5 PK is near-average by the numbers for Isles after seven games, including five games vs what appear to be good PP units (SJS, NSH, CAR).