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Islanders vs. Flames: Does Natural Stat Trick Log Tell the Story?

An experiment: Viewing the game log, then watching the games to test the impressions it conveys.

Calgary Flames v New York Islanders
In hockey, always a lot going on.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Normally I watch New York Islanders games, and then I’ll look through Natural Stat Trick’s (NST) game log — either during the game or afterwards — to try to gain some additional insight.

For Tuesday’s game against the Calgary Flames I decided to flip the script, since I knew I wouldn’t be able to watch the full game until Wednesday morning. Without watching the game (yet), I looked through the NHL boxscore page and then NST’s game log, searching for clues to tell the story of the game.

While avoiding any commentary / reaction to the game, I came up with eight groups of questions based solely on stats from the NHL boxscore and NST game log.

Those questions are below, in bold. After writing the questions, I watched the game. Finally I answered the stats-inspired questions based on what I observed. This is an attempt to assess the game through a different lens than I normally do.

1) The Cizikas line looks like it was crushed at 5v5. Cizikas on-ice rates are under 15% (adjusted) across-the-board. Did they perform this poorly? Were they stuck in their own zone a lot more than they had possession in the offensive zone? Did any bad turnovers contribute to their putrid on-ice numbers? Who is at fault here?

Honestly, after watching I think the Cizikas line played reasonably well, at least the first 40 minutes of the game. They were out-attempted roughly 16 to 2, but they had two or three near-high-danger chances, almost taking advantage of sloppy play by Calgary, when the timing was just slightly off.

The Flames were marked down for 10 scoring-chance attempts with Cizikas on the ice at 5v5, but I only noticed two or three that were particularly threatening. The Cizikas line was matched up with Gaudreau for seven minutes of 5v5.

2) Mathew Barzal and Devon Toews had some of the most impressive 5v5 on-ice numbers for the Islanders this game. When they were on the ice together, Isles were dominant: nine to one shot attempts, three to zero scoring-chance attempts. If Isles were dominant, how much credit should each be given? Was there another NYI player who helped “tilt the ice” while Barzal + Toews were both on (7:19 TOI together, at 5v5).

Barzal was perhaps more noticeable, but I think Toews may have played even better. Very good games for both.

Toews was solid all over the ice: intercepting pucks near the offensive blue line, closing gaps, taking away the puck in the defensive zone, and transitioning, all without any unforced turnovers that I saw. (Leddy had at least three at 5v5, Pulock at least two.)

3) Brock Nelson, Leo Komarov, and Barzal each had 4+ shot attempts near the slot area, at 5v5. Which of the three forwards appeared the most dangerous? Who helped to create these chances?

Nelson had the best scoring chance in the first period, for either team, after receiving the puck from Eberle and cutting through Hamonic into the lower slot. Nelson looked dangerous most of the game. Eberle played well to help provide Nelson time-space in the neutral zone.

Komarov and Barzal combined for scoring chances at 5v5, particularly in the first period. I thought it was a solid game by Komarov all-around, expect he doesn’t have great hands to help finish off an opportunity. A couple times when Isles gained the puck, Toews or another defenseman would sneak into the play, while Komarov or Ladd covered the point. This may be the best strategy, if Komarov sticks with Barzal. (I don’t think Komarov should be with Barzal, though.)

4) On the 5v4 power play Anders Lee had all five of Isles’ high-danger attempts and seven of their 11 scoring-chance attempts. This seems encouraging. Were Isles unlucky not to score a power play goal? Did the power play still appear overly predictable/stagnant, or are we finally seeing some better movement?

Very good puck-movement at 5v4 for the PP1 unit. Calgary wasn’t particularly aggressive, and Isles had some flow, particularly when Barzal switched spots with Eberle.

Lee had two golden opportunities. Isles were unlucky he didn’t finish one. (Nelson also had a good look at the tail-end of one sequence.)

I do think it still hurts to have Leddy’s mediocre shooting ability on top of the power play. Putting Toews on top might help open up even a little more space for Lee in the slot. (Or Nelson/Eberle/Barzal.) But it was an encouraging game for the top power play unit.

5) Leo Komarov is listed as the center (between Ladd and Barzal) on NST’s new “Forward Lines” display, as the line out-attempted Calgary 12 to 2 in five minutes of action. He is also listed between Beauvillier and Filppula for three minutes. In what ways does Komarov act as a center this game? (Faceoffs, defensively, attacking, etc)

Mostly faceoffs. Komarov was often first or second forechecker, while Barzal did all the puck-transition work, as expected. (Komarov ended the game 0-for-6 on faceoffs at 5v5, but he is 48% on the season, whereas Barzal is 42%.)

6) The second period, in general, clearly looks like the best 5v5 period for the Isles this game, by NST numbers. Were the first and third periods each big disappointments?

The first period I thought was almost even. Perhaps a slight edge to the Flames. I think Nelson had the only amazing scoring chance, at least off of a clean play.

Calgary had big edge for scoring-chance attempts (11 to 6) and high-danger (7 to 4) in the first, but it felt closer than that, perhaps due to Isles nearly taking advantage of some turnovers, but not quite getting shot attempts off from high-danger spots.

The third period was poor by Isles. Credit Flames for a strong period on the road, after Isles owned most of the second.

Offsidereview has Isles’s 5v5 expected goals % (adjusted) 49.8% for this game, and all-situations 61.2%. I think the Isles were somewhat unfortunate to not be leading the game after 40 minutes of play.

7) Johnny Gaudreau dominated 5v5 against Cizikas line: 16 to 2 attempts, 10 to 1 scoring-chance attempts. But he struggled against Nelson (1 to 3 attempts in 4:31) and Barzal (1 to 5 in 1:48). As a “Monday morning quarterback,” do I think that Isles perhaps should have tried for more top-6 against the Gaudreau line? Gaudreau’s line is one of the best in the NHL, but Cizikas’s line is one of the better bottom-6 lines. Was Cizikas’s line outclassed? If so, why?

No, Cizikas line did okay, at least through the first 40 minutes. Cizikas had a strong game, while Martin was okay. Clutterbuck’s puck-over-glass penalty (while on the PK) was terrible. Then he had a very disappointing poke-check execution on Calgary’s second goal (5v5), after miscommunication between Pulock and Martin, allowing Backlund to shoot with a natural motion, rather than at least forcing him to alter his shot. (Pulock’s screen didn’t help the matter.)

The Cizikas line wasn’t outclassed. Cizikas played well, despite his terrible 5v5 on-ice numbers this game.

8) What are the biggest surprises after watching the game, compared to what I was able to gather after merely looking at the NST game log?

Two forecheck fails didn’t directly show up on the stats page: Filppula’s line (including Beauvillier) with 15:35 remaining in the first period; Beauvillier’s solo forecheck effort forced opponent the wrong way (to his forehand) with 15:18 remaining in the second period. That second one led to a scoring chance for the Flames. I think Isles should strongly consider going back to Dal Colle - Filppula - Komarov line, as the trio did a great job disrupting neutral-zone play while winning the 5v5 battle. I’m not sure where to play Beauvillier, but Dal Colle seems a better fit for Filppula’s left wing.

Ladd had two key takeaways. One early on led to an opportunity Komarov wasn’t quick enough to turn into a scoring chance from a 3-on-2. The other led to Bailey’s 2-on-1 goal. Productive first game back for Ladd. (Though that first one could have been ruled a penalty on Ladd.)

Hickey moved the puck well. Toews and Hickey looked good together, overall. Leddy was rough, but he looked better as the game went on.

Filppula had a nice one-on-one move to draw a penalty. For a player who isn’t very quick or strong he’s surprisingly effective in open ice with the puck.

The third goal a was soft one for Lehner, but also some assignment confusion after a turnover by Barzal, with Ladd pinching up top, leaving the weak side of the ice wide open. Maybe four or five Islanders were partially at-fault for that goal.

It was an encouraging first 40 minutes, after Isles played three poor games (at least through 40 minutes) on the road in western Canada last week. It was a much better effort by Isles than they showed in Calgary, even if the NST stats appear damning at first glance.

After watching the game I am more encouraged by Isles’s play than I was last night, having only seen the boxscore and the NST game log.