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How the Kids Make the Islanders Better

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Relative metrics show that the Islanders fare better when Michael Dal Colle or Josh Ho-Sang are on the ice,

Los Angeles Kings v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Sometimes things are as obvious as they appear.

The latter half of February into this month has not been too kind to Long Island’s finest, as the team — even after Tuesday’s win against Ottawa — has struggled of late. The last eight games have seen the Isles winning just three, perhaps a residual effect of suboptimal lineups following the demotion of rookie forward Michael Dal Colle.

In last week’s trade deadline post-mortem, one of the key elements I posed was to recall either Dal Colle or Joshua Ho-Sang down the stretch. This idea was two-fold. First, to give players an opportunity to earn a playoff roster spot and second, to create a rotation in the bottom-six that would provide much needed rest to some of the Isles’ grind-it-out, hardworking players.

Two losses late last week, an apparent lack of Pepto-Bismol, and an errant puck to the ear have caused the Islanders to bring both Dal Colle and Ho-Sang up on an emergency recall basis. Only Dal Colle made it into Tuesday’s lineup, but… it’s a start.

While there’s no telling how long both players will stay with the NHL squad, at the very least it shows some understanding that the front office still values the two of them as contributors in some capacity.

The truth is that both Dal Colle and Ho-Sang have played far beyond any reasonable expectation while they’ve been in the lineup — so much so that the Islanders are objectively better when at least one of them play. Their explosion towards the top of the Metropolitan Division was catapulted by a long winning streak with Ho-Sang playing meaningful minutes. And more recently, their stranglehold atop the division (until Sunday) was largely driven by the important minutes Michael Dal Colle was entrusted to play.

Curiously, the two players are very different. Michael Dal Colle is a left wing, Josh Ho-Sang is a right wing. Dal Colle plays a cerebral game, using his body positioning to forecheck and close lanes effectively. Ho-Sang is more frenetic, using his elite skating ability to create space and offensive opportunities. In other words, Dal Colle — despite his legacy as a fifth overall pick — is a defensive minded player. Ho-Sang, also a first rounder in his own right, is an offensive minded player.

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Relative metrics allow us to understand how players perform in relation to their teammates. In other words, they essentially measure how the Islanders fare while a player is on the ice versus when they are off the ice.

To put that into context, let’s say the Islanders control 50% of shot attempts in a given game. When Michael Dal Colle is on the ice, the Islanders also controlled 50% of shot attempts. His shot attempts relative to the team would be 0.0%, as the Isles are neither better nor worse while Dal Colle was on the ice. We can apply this similarly to shots on net, scoring chances, and high danger chances.

Data as of March 6

This view was seen in last week’s piece, but it applies here — though is updated to include Tuesday’s game against Ottawa. And we can see, clearly, that the Islanders fare better in all shot based metrics when Dal Colle and Ho-Sang are on the ice.

It’s not just the relative numbers that work for these players. In 21 games, the Islanders have a 52.94% shot attempt share while Dal Colle is on the ice, a 54.84% scoring chance share, and a 59.72% high danger chance share.

With Ho-Sang, the numbers are similar. He’s only played 10 games, but when he’s on the ice, the Isles have a 58.99% shot attempt share, a 53.68% scoring chance share, and a 57.58% high danger chance share.

So it’s not just the fact that relative to their teammates, Dal Colle and Ho-Sang were driving the Islanders to better places, their raw numbers show specifically the levels of how the Isles control the play while they are on the ice.

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So, how can we reconcile the idea that Dal Colle and Ho-Sang — both of whom have a combined seven points on the season — are truly that impactful as players?

The answer is more anecdotal, but data visualization does allow us to pick up on some patterns pretty quickly.

Above is the shot attempt share chart I post after every game, annotated with the time periods that Dal Colle and Ho-Sang were on the roster and in the lineup. And from here, it is pretty easy to see that the two best stretches of the Islanders’ season - from an underlying point of view - came when at least one of them were in the lineup.

The records back that out too. The Islanders went on their breakout 9-0-1 run with Ho-Sang in the lineup. With Dal Colle, the team has gone 14-5-2 with him in the lineup. There’s an overlap of four games where both players were in the lineup…. The Islanders went 4-0. Which means that when at least one of them has played, the Islanders are 19-5-3.

That’s obviously extreme and playing at a pace of 124 points is not really sustainable, but the shot share metrics do back up the idea that the Islanders are simply a more well-rounded team when these guys are in the lineup.

And as we see the tail end of the chart above, the team is almost assuredly aware their most recent stretch of games is incomparable to the successes they saw during the December - early February stretch. So given the inaction of the trade deadline, it only seems to make sense to at least keep one of these rookies in the lineup.

Indeed, some things are just as obvious as they appear.

All data for this article from Natural Stat Trick.