The Islanders called Josh Ho-Sang up in mid-December. He played 10 games with the team before getting sent down to AHL Bridgeport in early January. What follows is an assessment of his play in those 10 games.
This will be split into two sections: the Good and the Bad. That applies to this video, too. The first 5:40 consists of the good; the final 3:00 the bad. I think that is roughly proportionate to his overall body of work in the 10 games he played.
A. Good Ho-Sang
1. He creates offense.
When Ho-Sang was on the ice at 5v5, the Islanders attempted 59% of all shots, 53.7% of all scoring chances, 57.6% of all high-danger chances and had a 58.7% expected goal percentage. In these measures, he ranked as one of the best forwards on the team in the time he was here.
On the whole, the Islanders carried play considerably when Ho-Sang was on the ice. He elevated the third line when he was put with Filppula and Komarov because of his ability to create offense in situations where most others simply cannot. All of the teammates he played most often with had a better shot-share when on the ice with Ho-Sang, per our own Carey Haber.
Despite this, Ho-Sang only scored two points — one goal and one assist — in 10 games. Islanders head coach Barry Trotz specifically cited this as one of two reasons he was demoted.
So how could Ho-Sang only have scored only two points if the Islanders carried the play so thoroughly when he was on the ice?
Bad luck, that’s how. The stats and the eye test both point to the same thing here.
Both Ho-Sang and his linemates failed to convert on most of the many glorious scoring opportunities that he created. This is evidenced by Ho-sang’s anemic 4.7% on-ice shooting percentage and it’s pretty clear from the video as well:
I recommend you toggle the HD option on in these clips.
Does this look like a player who will only score two points every 10 games if he continues to create opportunities like this?
Ho-Sang’s puck-carrying and passing ability helps the Islanders gain the offensive zone and stay there. He also continued to display a knack for drawing penalties, a valuable skill.
Ho-Sang could just as easily have scored 6-7 points without having played any differently. Easily. The only thing standing between the production we saw and the production he played well enough to earn were a few highway robbery-type saves made by opposing goalies. A few inches this way, a few more that way. That’s it.
Here are some more chances he helped create, since I couldn’t fit all the good ones within the one-minute gfycat limit.
2. Responsible defensive hockey. No, seriously.
This was far and away the biggest difference in Ho-Sang’s play this season. Particularly in his first 5-6 games, during which he showed a level of defensive awareness we had not previously seen from him.
At times, he served as the third man back at the blue line in the Trotz Trap and helped congest the neutral zone. Other times, he backchecked hard and disrupted opposing rushes before they could materialize. He used his quick stick and anticipation to separate puck from player several times.
Compared to what we’ve seen from him in past seasons, it was black and white. Here are some of those good defensive plays Ho-Sang made:
Honestly, I don’t think it would’ve been possible to put together 60 seconds of good defensive play like this from Ho-Sang’s previous 43 NHL games combined.
Accordingly, Trotz was gradually starting to show more trust in him as the games went on. In his first few games, he didn’t see the ice in the final five to six minutes. By games eight and nine, Trotz was sending him out there in the final two minutes in some tight situations.
As for the underlying stats, in the time he was here, Ho-Sang ranked as one of the team’s best forwards as far as the rate of shots and scoring chances the team conceded with him on the ice.
Ho-Sang will never be an imposing defensive player, but there’s no question he possesses the attributes to be passable on that end.
3. Energy and effort on the forecheck.
Ho-Sang had several successful turns as the first man in on the forecheck, applying pressure on opposing defensemen and creating turnovers.
I especially liked seeing him use his body a bit and not completely shy away from contact.
B. Bad Ho-Sang
As good as he might’ve looked for most of his stint, Ho-Sang was still sent down to Bridgeport. Here is what Barry Trotz had to say about the demotion:
“He’s obviously got a good skill set, but a goal and an assist, playing on the top line — you need more production than that. Some of the (bad) details in his game were starting to show up the last five games or so. We talked about that and he’ll work on that in Bridgeport.”
So the issue was two-fold:
1. Lack of production.
Even putting aside the fact (touched on above) that Ho-Sang only scored two points because of bad shooting luck, it’s a bit disingenuous of Trotz to make it seem like Ho-Sang spent his entire time up with the Islanders playing on the “top” scoring line. In reality, he played just about the same number of minutes with Filppula and Komarov as he did on the “top line” with Lee and Nelson.
(Also, I get why he refers to the Lee-Nelson-Eberle trio as the “top line,” but let’s just be real here: as long as Mathew Barzal is an Islander, the Islanders’ top line is the one Mathew Barzal is centering.)
2. Slippage in his attention to detail.
I re-watched Ho-Sang’s shifts from his last five games to see what Trotz was talking about and I found plenty of plays that illustrated this decline in his attention to detail.
I personally don’t think his play diminished to a level that warranted his removal from the lineup, but for some reason no one ever confers with me about these things. I’m not sure why, seeing as I’m a random person on the internet and therefore deserve to be taken seriously, but they don’t.
Now, I understand that I obviously have no idea what it was, specifically, that Ho-Sang was asked (by Trotz), but then failed, to do. It’s just that whatever it was, I don’t see how it could’ve been even remotely damaging enough to disregard how positive his net impact on the team has been.
See, this is not like last year at all. The mistakes that got him demoted last season were serious and they were pervasive. I wrote about those mistakes in detail - the super-long shifts, the turnovers, flying the zone, avoiding physical confrontation, over-passing, all sorts of bad shit.
This time around, it’s a completely different story. He wasn’t taking any intolerable risks here. These slip-ups were just as Trotz described them: details. A few poor decisions with the puck near the offensive zone blue line, a few inconsequential turnovers, a few penalties, a few lapses in judgment. Here are the worst examples I found:
While most of these plays weren’t that bad, they certainly weren’t good either. And when a team plays such low-event hockey like the Islanders do, it raises the likelihood that any one individual play can end up deciding a game. So though I may disagree with the decision to send Ho-Sang down, it’s better to have a coach who prioritizes the details of the game than one who doesn’t.
My main takeaway from Ho-Sang’s NHL stint this season
The bottom line is I am in no way taking this demotion as a negative sign for his NHL career. When he was cut unexpectedly early during training camp, I was starting to seriously doubt whether Ho-Sang would even have a future with the Islanders or in the NHL.
After watching him under Barry Trotz for 10 games, I am no longer worried.
His defensive play is light years ahead of where it was when we last saw him, and he has significantly cut down on the turnovers and other egregious mistakes.
Josh Ho-Sang is still a work in progress, but his work has undoubtedly progressed.
In truth, this is as encouraged as I’ve ever been with Ho-Sang. I think Barry Trotz is the perfect coach for him and I’m encouraged by the last thing he said regarding the demotion:
I’ll tell you this, every time a young player comes up (and goes back down), he’ll get better and better. That’s the law of the land when it comes to young players.
Josh Ho-Sang will be back with the Islanders before long and he will be better than ever.
I’m looking forward to it.