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Where Are the Islanders Generating Shots From?

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A look at how the team has developed a discipline of shot attempts from the right point

Detroit Red Wings v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As the first month of the 2018-19 season comes to a close tomorrow, the Islanders sit with a solidly acceptable 5-4-1 record through ten games and are coming off a weekend of wins against Philadelphia and Carolina. Now that the team has ten games under their belts, some early-season trends are starting to form. Today, we’ll look at specifically where on the ice the Islanders are generating their 5-on-5 offense from.

HockeyViz.com’s new Interactive Shot Tool provides a clear window into specifically where on the ice shot attempts are taken, based on play-by-play data provided by NHL official scoring (As a note, if you want to replicate any of the graphs below, a Patreon subscription to HockeyViz may be required). Through the first ten games, it’s becoming clear the Islanders have quickly developed a strategic gameplan in the offensive zone…

Take point shots from the right-hand side of the ice.

Credit: HockeyViz.com

First, using a Shots Taken Heatmap from HockeyViz over the course of the season-to-date, we can see right off the bat the Islanders are skewing enormously towards taking shots from the right point (indicated by the red color). This jives fairly well with individual shot attempt events.

Heading into Tuesday’s game at Pittsburgh, Natural Stat Trick records Johnny Boychuk leading the team in 5v5 shot attempts (36), Ryan Pulock right behind him (32), and Scott Mayfield in fourth (29). Knowing these are the Isles’ three prominent right-handed defenseman, we can essentially intuitively validate the idea that the Isles like to take a lot of shots from the right point.

This next section will be highly visual and relates more to game-to-game storytelling, but provides an interesting look as to how Barry Trotz and his coaching staff have developed this discipline over time.

If we look above at the first four games of the season, there’s a bunch of noise. Shots were coming from all areas of the ice, revealing very little in the way of patterns.

That starts to change in Game 5 against Anaheim. If we look above using the Interactive Shots Tool, we can see the first look at some new patterns. The first period had shots skew a bit towards the right side. That was followed by more of a middle of the ice accentuation in period two. Period three, on the other hand, shows how the Islanders have been recently generating offense: almost all shot attempts came from the right side.

The next three games see the Islanders start to become more extreme in their shot location. In fact, the game against Los Angeles was the first time that I noticed this trend.

Specifically within this three game set, there’s somewhat of a new pattern where point shots are skewed towards the right side, but shots attempts by forwards below the hashmarks are actually taken from the left side of the ice.

Credit: HockeyViz.com

Over the last two games, the trends of the first eight games have provided clear strategies.

Against Philadelphia, the Islanders targeted two clear areas of the ice. Once again, they generated attempts from the right point, and actually none from the left point (other than a shot from beyond the blue line by Adam Pelech). The team also was able to capitalize on the Flyers’ defense, with even more shots coming right at the doorstep of the goal. That’s obviously a good thing, as teams have the highest success rate from higher danger areas. It’s also our second look at the forwards’ shot attempts skewing towards the left side of the ice.

Credit: HockeyViz.com

Sunday’s game against Carolina presents the most extreme outcome here, as the Islanders attempted literally all but one shot to the right of the left circle. They were able to get towards the goal mouth as well, but even still, it’s a blatant pattern that actually goes for both left handed and right handed shots.

So, Has It Worked?

At large, the answer is… kind of. Nothing is black and white and this is not either. Given that the trend of right-side shot generation started near the end of Game 5, I split the season into two clusters of 5 games (first five and last five) and compared the results two ways. First, I looked at if the team was generating more shot attempts (and derivations of) per hour, followed by the percentage of attempts that were unblocked, on net, scoring chances, high danger chances, and goals.

As a note, goals, of course, are largely driven by multiple factors (including luck) and deal in a smaller sample.. Still, there’s a process perspective and a results perspective to everything (in other words, does the ends justify the means?) and we can look at both.

Shot Rates / 60

The first view here looks at 5v5 shot rates across multiple facets. As we can see, the Islanders’ first five games - where they were shooting all over the ice - have produced more 4% attempts, 11% more unblocked attempts, and 13% more high danger chances. On the flip side, the Islanders have gotten a modest increase in shots on net (4%), but a 49% increase in goals scored! This is where we need to use context. If the team is generating less scoring chances and less high danger chances, how could they be scoring almost an additional goal per hour?

We can look directly at shooting percentage to get those answers. In the first five games, the Islanders shot 8.70% at even strength, which was the league average over the course of that time period. Over the last five games, the Isles have shot 12.37%, which ranks fourth in the NHL over that period. Additionally, on high danger shots the Isles are shooting 27.27% in their last five games, which ranks second in the league.

Things are blurry as to distinctly why this is happening, but we can attribute some of it to puck luck, especially given that we can see the Isles are generating less high danger chances and less scoring chances per hour. On the flip side, the Isles have quite a few skilled players in their top six (especially Anders Lee, who scores a lot from beneath the circles), and skilled players do heat up over the course of a season.

Percentage of Attempt Types

The other thing to look at, outside of hourly rates, is the percentage of attempt types. This gives us a general sense of shot quality; in other words, we can devise if the Islanders are getting more high danger and scoring chances per individual attempt over the last five games.

The answer, again, is not really. As we saw with the shot rates, more of the Isles’ shots in the last five games have gone on net and more goals are being scored per attempt (which we can again attribute to team shooting percentage), but they are getting more attempts blocked and generating less scoring chances and high danger chances per attempt.

What’s This All Mean?

Again, understanding we are dealing with pretty small samples, there are still some main takeaways we can monitor in the go-forward. First, the Islanders have clearly trended in a way where they are almost exclusively generating point shots from one side of the ice. This is something other teams surely know by now, especially because the Isles’ right-handed defensive corps are made up of shooters relative to their left-handed defensemen.

It’s true that the team has scored more even strength goals as this pattern has formed into a presumed strategy, but it’s difficult to say if this can persist. Teams are already starting to block more Islander attempts, as well as getting better at defending higher danger areas against them. It’s true the Isles are currently capitalizing on opportunities they are getting from down low, but shooting percentages inherently carries ebbs and flows over the course of a season.

Finally, strategic shifts happen constantly over the course of the season, and the team could legitimately adjust their plans as soon as Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh. Nothing with regards to these trends should be considered set in stone. All we can do right now is continue to watch to see if this trend of using the shots of the right-handed defensemen continues, or if this was a little detour over the course of a full season.

All shot and heat maps are from HockeyViz.com and is at even strength play.

All attempt rates and data are from NaturalStatTrick.com and is at 5v5 play.