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19 Isles Thoughts: Barry Trotz, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Another PDO Surge

Just some weekly reflection on all things Islanders

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Islanders Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images

Alright everyone, I’m back for a weekly dose of Islanders things that I’m thinking about. Let’s get right into it:

1. The Islanders remained red hot as they continued their point streak — now at 12 games — over the last week. After a somewhat brutal 4-3 overtime defeat against Pittsburgh, the team rebounded with a solid 2-1 victory against Florida on Saturday afternoon. Overall, their level of play slipped a little bit but their ability to continue to attain points despite that is quite positive.

A lot of that is because of the continued stellar play of Thomas Greiss, who was outstanding against the Panthers. He now leads the league with a .942 save percentage. Seems pretty good.

2. There was a lot of ruckus made after the Isles’ 4-3 overtime defeat against Pittsburgh. Not really because the Islanders lost (it was bound to happen eventually), but because of Barry Trotz’s press conference after the game. Trotz was stern during the entirety of the presser, but gave a very concise answer when asked a question about ensuring such a collapse does not become the norm.

Enough said.

3. This is the kind of thing that endears Trotz to basically everyone. He’s a straight shooter in the sense that you can perceive what his expectations are, but he also has the confidence in his answers that makes you believe his team will get there even when they hit pitfalls.

On a trivial note, Trotz will be coaching his 100th regular season game with the Islanders on Saturday. I’d say these first hundred have gone better than anyone could have reasonably expected. The league-wide perception of him as a coach is obviously well known, but seeing his philosophies and external messaging on a day-to-day basis makes me appreciate him even more. One day, he’ll be heading to Toronto for his Hall of Fame speech and it will be extremely deserved.

4. Two of the recently injured Islanders returned to the lineup against Florida: Jordan Eberle and Nick Leddy. Both guys were essentially thrown right back into the deep end, as Eberle took his usual spot on the Mathew Barzal line and Leddy was paired with Johnny Boychuk (as usual). The two of them played well. Leddy led the team in expected goal share, continuing his re-emergence as the player many of us remember from his maiden 2014-15 season. Eberle had a few scoring chances and quite literally turned into a goalie as needed (and potentially the game).

The guys that filled in for them did an admirable job, but it benefits the team to see Leddy and Eberle return. One of the key undersold elements? Barry Trotz likes to evenly distribute ice time across his lineup. That’s something that simply was not happening in recent games, but likely will correct itself upon these returns.

5. Eberle’s return meant a roster move needed to be made, and so the Islanders decided to send Oliver Wahlstrom back to the AHL. This was the right decision for two reasons. First, Barry Trotz was using Wahlstrom less by the game. While there is credence to the idea that time under Trotz in the NHL is beneficial, it generally also does not help a 19-year old kid to play only 7-8 minutes a night with depth players. The AHL is a logical league for him to play in given that context, especially because he’s actually afforded that option as a former NCAA player.

Secondly, from an operational standpoint, it would have been even more illogical to play Wahlstrom in a tenth game for contractual reasons. Wahlstrom’s appearance in a tenth NHL game this season would see the first year of his entry-level contract burned. That simply should not have been an option… and clearly, it wasn’t.

6. One of the things I was most interested in was how Wahlstrom would respond with being sent back to Bridgeport. He’s seemingly performed quite well, with two points (one goal) and eight shots in three games. It’s now somewhat of a big year for Wahlstrom. He played fairly well at the NHL level despite not producing much, but I’d imagine the team will want to see him produce while learning the important nuances of the professional game. That’s something Barry Trotz alluded to over the weekend. So far, so good.

7. On another positive note, the Isles’ 2019 first round pick Simon Holmstrom is starting to find the back of the net in Bridgeport. The Swedish forward has three goals in his last six games with nine shots on net. It’s a marked improvement over where he was at the start of the season, coinciding with some forward talent returning to the Bridgeport lineup.

Points are not the only thing that matters, of course. Holmstrom is just 18-years old and is one of the youngest players in the AHL. He’s coming from a European development system, which means his arrival includes acclimation to new routines, ice surfaces, and languages. How he handles all of that is equally as important as his on-ice production, especially in these early stages of his North American career.

8. As it sometimes goes, the early scheduling for the Islanders has been…. Weird. The team has already had two breaks of four days or more, and currently is riding a three day break between Saturday afternoon and Wednesday night.

That’s not a lot of games played in the span of a month, but it kind of just is what it is. Scheduling is really hard. There’s so many factors that the league needs to consider: travel, arena availability, games in Europe, and more. And, it’s not like it’s hurt the Islanders — they’ve obviously performed quite well with their added rest. While it’s inconsistent in the short-term, all of these things will eventually even out in the end. So be it.

9. Here’s a thing that is worth exploring - the power play differential for the Islanders is still(!) very much in the negatives.

The Islanders have had a grand total of 28 power plays in their 16 games this year. The next closest is Tampa with 42. For lack of a better term, the Isles have been hosed this season. Personally, I try not to get on the referees. They have an extremely difficult job managing one of the fastest sports in the world. Regardless, this is still is a pretty odd anomaly.

That’s not meant to be conspiratorial at all. One would think this is something that will self-correct over the course of the season, but at this point it is worth keeping an eye on.

10. So, the Islanders have the highest PDO in the league… again. To recap, PDO is the sum of shooting percentage and save percentage at 5-on-5 play. The Isles’ 103.3 is tops in the league, just ahead of Colorado (103.0) and Nashville (102.8).

I’m sure everyone reading this is gearing up for the diminishment of the Islanders because “the analytics say.” Not so fast. The team is winning a lot of games right now and that is going to superficially drive up these two metrics. No one (reasonably) expects the Islanders to obtain points at a 95.83% clip, so pull the breaks back.

The important key metrics? The Islanders are still trending above 50% at both expected goals and high danger chances over their last 10 games. Their overall shot attempts are lagging behind that, but that’s always the case with Trotz and these Isles. Overall, things are still looking good beyond surface metrics like PDO.

11. More on PDO (which stands for nothing, by the way): PDO often gets interchanged with the word ‘luck.’ A team is ‘lucky’ if they have a high PDO. The idea behind it is that in the long-term, PDO will regress back towards the number of 100. Anything around 100 is considered normal, anything above 101.5 and below 98.5 is considered lucky or unlucky, respectively.

All it really measures is conversion rates. Conversion rates of shots and of saves. And those can be really hard to predict! All we know is that eventually most teams do trend back towards 100. Now you might be asking “but Carey, what about teams who have consistently good goaltending like the Islanders?”

That would be a great question! And that’s also one of the flaws with PDO. Goaltending is hard to predict, which means it’s hard to predict that teams will get consistently great goaltending. The Isles are a recent team who have pretty much broken that idea, so their PDO range is likely higher than some other teams - if we consider goaltending to be a skill (we do).

So, what’s PDO really telling us? Not all that much, at the end of the day, especially at a team level. It’s a good descriptor of success rates, and that’s really about it.

12. Related, I’m going to say something that might sound bit off-brand. As many of you know, I’m a big process guy. Theoretically, process leads to success: we’ve seen a whole lot of that during Trotz’s Long Island tenure. But so much around process and systems gets worked through over the course of the year, it’s hard to make blanket justifications about what a team is or isn’t early on. In other words, on a game-to-game level it’s not worth overanalyzing the performance of the team.

The most important aspect right now is that the team is banking points. A lot of them. Surely, as Mike and Dan noted on Islanders Anxiety a week back, you cannot make the playoffs in October. But you sure can eliminate yourself during that time.

So for the Islanders, whether it’s Mathew Barzal, Thomas Greiss, or Cole Bardreau, everyone seems to be chipping in right now. That’s an important element as the coaching staff undoubtedly works to perfect the teams’ strategy over the course of the year.

13. It’s also imperative because, as usual, the Eastern Conference is very good! There are already 10 teams with 20 or more points. It’s another reason why this start has been important. They have a cushion if/when they hit some ruts throughout the season, which certainly will keep them (at least) in the playoff conversation for the entire year.

There have been a lot of years *in this decade* where the team was barely competitive and out of the playoff picture before December 1. It’s a good reminder to get out of the bubble and savor the success the team has had with Trotz as their coach so far.

14. Return #1: The Islanders announced on Tuesday that Leo Komarov has been activated off IR. This is an interesting one because Barry Trotz has not been afraid to play Komarov in a multitude of roles. He practiced on Tuesday in the fourth line center role, splitting time with Otto Koivula (up again from Bridgeport), so perhaps that’s where he slides in. It does not seem like an optimal way to utilize Komarov’s skillset, but he was playing in that position before the Isles called up Cole Bardreau in mid-October.

15. Return #2: Andrew Ladd is also on his way back, as he finished up a conditioning stint with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers over the weekend. Ladd is returning from a torn ACL, so the game action was important given the recovery time of such an injury.

An actual appearance in a game still may be a bit in the future though. On Tuesday, he practiced with Noah Dobson as the two extra skaters, so his slot and timing remains unknown. It’s possible that when Ladd does return, it could spell the end of Ross Johnston in the regular lineup, which would align with Trotz’s mentality of evenly distributed ice time of dressed players.

16. All of this leads to MORE roster intrigue, in case anyone can’t get enough of it. One option? The Islanders could return Derick Brassard to center and pair him with Ladd and Komarov, moving Bailey back to left wing and reuniting Michael Dal Colle with Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck.

This, of course, is a guess and could be entirely wrong. The team does have a fair amount of flexibility with their roster, so how the coaching staff maneuvers with that versatility will be interesting and might even lead to some unexpected combinations.

17. Return #3: So, the Leafs are in town on Wednesday, which means John Tavares is in town. Here is the (now annual) reminder that everyone is entitled to feel how they would like about Tavares’ departure, especially as other people on the internet inevitably try to tell all Isles fans how to feel.

For me, it’s been about a year and a half now and I’m very much at peace with the situation. Tavares was a fantastic Islander and almost assuredly the most accomplished player the team has had since the dynasty ended. I prefer to remember him in that light more than anything else. I know that might be unpopular within Isles circles, but hey, that’s why we’re all entitled to our thoughts!

18. The actual game against the Maple Leafs is pretty interesting. Toronto has been a bit underwhelming to start the season, and they come into this game upon learning that Mitch Marner will be out a while with a high ankle sprain. The real intrigue for me is with regards to how the Isles opt to match lines. It seems likely that Casey Cizikas will be up against the Auston Matthews-William Nylander combination, but that leaves a big question on who will match up against Tavares. If it were me? I’d give Mathew Barzal that opportunity. He’s developed into a quality 200-foot player and he seems to be the type to relish the chance to play against Tavares for a full game.

19. Finally, I want to give a nod to Dan Saraceni’s Islanders Award Winners podcast. If you have not checked this out yet, you basically need to. Dan narrates a retrospective of individual Islanders seasons that have resulted in awards. The episode from last week was about Bryan Trottier’s 1978-79 Hart and Art Ross campaign. The amount of footage he and Kevin Schultz are able to obtain for this is incredible and the level of detail that’s incorporated in here is deep.

If you’re a sports history nut — or an Islanders history nut — this is worth your time (and I’m not just saying that because it is a Lighthouse sponsored podcast!).