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First Things First: The Islanders need to improve on puck retrievals

The Islanders can improve their puck retrievals this season by focusing on actually retrieving pucks

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New Jersey Devils v New York Islanders
Islanders defenseman Dennis Seidenberg prepares himself for another failed puck retrieval.
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

When New York Islanders training camp opened a few weeks ago, something stuck out in Arthur Staple’s opening report. This was that something:

Saturday featured more structural work, mostly on defensive-zone puck retrievals and breakouts. That is clearly a focus for a team that, despite new management and a new coaching staff, has a lot of the same personnel from the 2017-18 version that allowed the most goals in a season in over a decade.

This was a relief to see for one reason above all others. It was the same reason Barry Trotz started his on-ice tenure with his new team with puck retrievals. It was the same reason LHH user DirtyAreas requested that I make a video on puck retrievals. It was the same reason referenced by Thomas Hickey when he talked about that first practice:

“Today was, like many other camps, was tactical and structural where you’re talking about the things that are most important. For us, starting with coming back into our own zone and playing with the puck once you’re back in the defensive zone. That’s pretty standard but I think there’s a reason why it was the first thing addressed.”

Thomas Hickey is correct. The reason puck retrievals was the very first thing Barry Trotz covered on the first day of training camp was because the Islanders were absolutely terrible at puck retrievals last season.

Here is a video showing some of those really bad puck retrievals. Please note this was meant to be a first draft but I lost the project file when I wiped my computer clean this week. The editing is unfinished and there are no arrows or other annotations I normally include in my videos. So what you should be watching for specifically is the Islanders defenseman as he goes back to retrieve the puck.

It often looked as though defensemen would purposefully slow down and actually allow opponents to get to the puck first. It’s as if they thought they were “trapping” opposing players into the disadvantageous situation of...taking control of the puck deep in the Islanders zone...? I don’t know, I really couldn’t explain it to you. But that’s what it looked like last season, that the Islanders dispensed with the “retrieval” part of their puck retrievals.

Just watch Leddy take forever to pivot and go back for the puck at 0:40. Or check out Pelech dilly-dally with no urgency on the retrievals at 0:03 or 0:50 (or 2:03 or 2:23). Or Pulock just standing there at 1:18 or any of these other clips. It was a team-wide problem last year, something I noticed from every defenseman who suited up.

That tells me this was a systematic issue. So does the fact that the first thing Barry Trotz went over in training camp was puck retrievals. We should start to see if the new coach has cleaned this issue up when the Islanders open their season tomorrow night in Carolina.