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The Islanders Are Struggling With the Lead

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And pretty much during all other times too. A look at the Isles’ play in different game situations.

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

If you think the Islanders haven’t looked good of late, it’s because they haven’t. In fact, there’s been alarms sounded, all saying that the Isles have looked like a shell of the underrated team we all saw skyrocket to the top of the division.

Shell. That’s an interesting word. We’ll get back to that.

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Score effects essentially state that teams play differently depending on the score and situation of the game. When teams are leading late, they sacrifice offense to play a more defensive style game. When teams are trailing late, teams ramp up the offense and take more risks to try and score quickly.

This can result in skewed metrics depending on the state of the game, and it’s something that needs to at least be monitored when looking at recent performance. There can be some warning signs in even the most basic analysis.

For example, if I told you that over each team’s last 10 games the Islanders have led for the second most time in the league (254+ minutes), would you guess they were only 5-4-1 in that time period? Well, it’s true.

By the way, heading into Tuesday’s game, the other four teams that make up the top-five in that time period (Washington, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Montreal) were a combined 29-10-1.

Meanwhile, score and venue adjusted metrics help bridge this gap by applying weights to each shot attempt, scoring chance, and high danger chance depending on the score of the game and where the game is being played (home versus away). Basically, this creates more of a level playing field in the sense that teams are rewarded more for stronger play while ahead and penalized for poor play while behind.

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Okay, let’s bring this back to the Islanders. In an effort to remain consistent in evaluation of recent trends, the remaining elements of this piece will show a recent trend of the Isles’ last 10 games versus their first 59.

The following will show all shot attempts, scoring chances, and high danger chances across four different game states: All, Up 1, Tied, Down 1. Each of the bar charts includes the share of chances by attempt, the Isles’ league rank, and the minutes played in each game state.

One extremely important thing to note is that the majority of these comparisons will deal in very small sample sizes. That means nothing here is enough to take any sort of significant insight other than that these metrics are a descriptive representation of a recent moment in time. In other words, they tell you simply what has transpired.

The Charts

Data as of March 12, 2019

The first thing that sticks out here is that the Islanders rank 30th in shot attempt share over the last 10 games. That includes a score-adjusted shot share of 34.91% while up a goal, also ranking 30th ahead of a gutted Ottawa Senators team.

We can, however, see a pattern of which is normal for game state. While down a goal, the Isles fare the “best” - though, again, they’ve only played 34 minutes in their last 10 games while down a goal.

Overall, we are able to get our first look at a clear trend here wherein the last ten games for the Islanders have not been as strong as their season long metrics indicate.

Data as of March 12, 2019

Scoring chances provide a very similar view, where the team is struggling of late in ways they haven’t all season wrong. Akin to most Barry Trotz run teams, the Islanders do have a better scoring chance share than overarching attempt share, even ranking in the top-5 when down a goal for the full season. But recently, tied game state and up a goal game state have the Islanders struggling. Again, we can see the Islanders are under 40% while up a goal in their last ten games.

Data as of March 12, 2019

As we know, all season the Islanders have preached high danger chance (HDCF) share - or, quality chances - as their catalyst to victory. We can see that in the metrics, with the Isles ranking in the top ten season long in overall high danger share, as well as when down a goal and tied. Like the other metrics, the Isles play a conservative game with the lead dropping them pretty considerably in HDCF share (from 9th to 23rd in the first 59 games).

Recently, the team has lagged tremendously behind their season benchmark, playing only to a 44.44% high danger chance share in tied game states (ranking 24th, despite ranking 4th through their first 59 games). They have been uber-aggressive when down a goal of late, but again, with only 34 minutes played there’s nothing much to take out of this other than that the team has shown to take more chances when down a goal all season.

Cool Charts, What Does This All Mean?

Not all that much in terms of the go-forward. I know that sounds counterintuitive considering you just read a bunch of paragraphs about quick insights we can see by game state. But in terms of being able to predict the future, there’s just not a ton here.

What we can discern from these are three key points:

1) Barry Trotz has the Islanders playing a predictable style depending on how the game is unfolding. When the Islanders are down a goal, they play more aggressive across the board. When tied, they play more in line with their season averages. When ahead, they play a very conservative style which allows for a lot of shot attempts, scoring chances, and high danger chances against.

2) Shelling. The Islanders have been doing a whole lot of it recently. Part of that is because of the minute distribution. The Isles have played a lot more minutes ahead by a goal than behind by a goal. That is a good thing. However, they are also shelling more intensely than they have all season, and that’s allowed teams to take advantage. To reiterate a point above, despite that the Isles have played the second most minutes in the NHL while ahead over their last 10 games, the team only has five wins to show for it.

3) In general, the team just has not played well lately. Some of that is based off the fact that they have led a lot, and what we see on TV is indicative of the style of play Trotz employs in those game states. But, they’re also well under their season benchmarks over their last 10 games, especially in a tied game state. So it’s not just because they are ahead. They are leading, playing conservatively, and not playing well overall.

All of this has led to nervous times in Islander land, as no one would choose for the team to limp into the playoffs. Because these charts are not predictable in a small sample, we can say the last 10 games may or may not lead to better play in the future. Luckily for the Isles, there’s still some time to turn things around.

All data for this piece is from Natural Stat Trick.