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The Eagle’s Nest: Islanders 5v5 Defensive Zone Team-defense

Barry Trotz’s Isles have reduced dangerous shots against, though the margin by which they’re outshot overall remains a concern.

San Jose Sharks v New York Islanders
The 2018-19 goalies are playing well, and under Trotz they have a little more help in front of them.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

“The numbers may not suggest so, but with my own two eyes I can tell that the Islanders are much more structured defensively this season.”

I’ve come across many sentiments similar to this one regarding the Islanders’ game under new head coach Barry Trotz. While it is often hard to measure defensive-zone play, there is numerical evidence that the Islanders have cut down on shot-danger at 5v5 (thus far) this season, according to offsidereview’s expected Fenwick save percentage stat.

Fenwick is simply all unblocked shot attempts (against, in this case). Based on shot attempts against (shots-on-goals as well as shots that missed the net), Islanders’ goalies have the highest 5v5 save percentage in the East (NJD is only team close), but they also have the second-highest expected save percentage in the East, as we see below.

Is this due to the acquisitions of defensive-oriented forwards Leo Komarov, Valtteri Filppula, and Matt Martin? It appears so, in large part. The Islanders have a much higher xFSave% with bottom-6 forwards on the ice this season than top-6 forwards, while Johnny Boychuk’s on-ice stat has risen from .938 last season to .962 so far this season:

Is this team-defense stat sustainable? I am not so sure. Last season the top five teams in the East finished in the .943-.944 range, so perhaps .947 is a bit higher than is sustainable.

NYI’s current .961 actual Fenwick save percentage is bound to come down to reality at some point, as no team in the East broke .950 last season. It is a promising start for Robin Lehner (.965) and Thomas Greiss (.956), but even Sergei Bobrovsky and Pekka Rinne settled in at .953 last season, while Antti Raanta ended up .958 in 47 games.

That said, it is still good that the team has cut down on dangerous shots against at 5v5, and perhaps the team can continue to do well in this area of the game, compared to last season, when they finished in the bottom five of the East:

Even if the Islanders are able to continue their exceptional play in the defensive zone, being outshot 476 to 358 in terms of all unblocked shots (389 to 272 at 5v5) is still very concerning, as their top-5 shooting percentage (overall as well as 5v5) is bound to dry up at some point.

The Power Play

Here is an updated 5v4 power play pause-able gif, courtesy of Peter Flynn. We can see that (a) Josh Bailey is taking some shots and keeping them on-goal, (b) good things happen when Anders Lee receives the puck in the lower slot, and (c) Barzal and Eberle shoot from largely the same position.

Among 113 NHL skaters with 30+ minutes at 5v4 this season Lee is 5th in terms of SOG rate (25 per-60), while Bailey is 22nd (18 per-60). At times the power play has looked poor, but it has largely been dangerous when set up in the offensive zone.

Next week we will take a deeper look at the penalty kill, which at the moment appears to be at least slightly above average this season.