Preview: Game #22 Leafs @ Islanders – Not Rick DiPietro’s fault

I have some thoughts about the Rick DiPietro saga today buried a bit deeper in the preview, but just to set up the Maple Leafs game on Long Island tonight, there was a glorious time at the start of the season when a game involving the Toronto Maple Leafs would have more than three scoring chances per team, per period. During this small stretch at the start of the season, the Leafs played a game against the New York Islanders.

The Islanders aren’t necessarily a one-line team, but they do have a pretty good top scoring line. In their last contest, Matt Moulson led the Islanders to firing 19 scoring chances at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ net, and Ben Scrivens was mercifully pulled late in the contest en route to a 7-4 loss for Toronto.

At the start of the season, had you told Islanders fans “by Game No. 20 of the season, you will be a single point back of the New York Rangers” they probably would have taken that. Unfortunately for the Islanders, the Rangers have gotten off to a start below expectations. The Islanders have eight wins (22nd in the league), 17 points (25th in the league) and are the league’s worst team for giving up goals other than the Florida Panthers.

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The real story with the Islanders today appears to be about former No. 1 overall pick Rick DiPietro however. Rick DiPietro doesn’t play with the Islanders anymore. Him and his buried $4.5M salary cap hit play for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

DiPietro is a lot of things, but he represents a burden placed on athletes when they’re offered good contracts. DiPietro did nothing wrong signing that deal. He had terrible luck with injuries, and played for an organization looking to cut costs wherever it could in the interest of making it into the black. The Islanders are the only team in the NHL I can name where being financially deficient has actually handicapped the team from competing. For teams like Phoenix or Nashville, this doesn’t seem to be an issue.

He made, it seems, a “facetious” remark about driving into a tree today. That was context given to an earlier snippet of an interview done by a local Emmy-winning sportscaster where he said DiPietro had been contemplating suicide, which led to an interesting hour in which DiPietro appeared to have made jokes about suicide. Now, that isn’t true. There’s nothing to indicate DiPietro made light of the situation, and there’s also nothing to indicate that DiPietro or any other well-paid athlete hasn’t had to struggle with depression at some point. It’s not fair to treat well-paid athletes as something more than human because they make a lot of money. 

Whether that is DiPietro or not, he’s still an interesting case because it doesn’t appear he’ll be back in the NHL anytime soon. Good contract, bad contract or no contract, nothing really makes it right to lob abuse at players. The comment section of this blog also tends to rip on Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf for the money they make. It’s almost as if making money turns a player into an instant villain, where if the player doesn’t live up to expectation, the fault lies with the player and not with the managerial team who made the faulty forecast.

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When you run a hockey team, you’re in the forecasting business. Given the choice between two players, say, Luke Schenn and James van Riemsdyk, you’re weighing “which player will give my team more wins over the period they are in team control?” The Islanders made a forecast that “over the course of this 15-year contract, Rick DiPietro’s tangible benefits to the club will be worth more than $4.5-million a year”. That was one of several incorrect forecasts made by the people who have run the Islanders for the last twenty or so seasons. The team has not won a playoff series since 1993. That’s not DiPietro’s fault, or Alexei Yashin’s fault, or Mark Parrish’s fault or John Tavares’ fault. That is the fault of the people who have made poor forecasts. The players get offered money and they play. In most cases, the players selected are not good enough to make the playoffs.

I don’t rip on Colton Orr or Frazer McLaren as much as people seem to think I do. My beef mainly lies with Randy Carlyle and Dave Nonis, the people paid a lot of money to make these forecasts. They usually tend to be wrong. My own forecast is that the Toronto Maple Leafs, due to a mis-use of its resources are a team that gets outshot too often for their winning to last.

Broadcast Info:

Puck Drop: 7:00 PM EST

TV: Sportsnet Ontario

Radio: Sportsnet 590

Numbers Game:

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  NY Islanders Toronto
Fenwick Close 49.69% (18th) 45.25% (28th)
5v5 GF/60 2.2 2.6
5v5 GA/60 3.5 2.1
5v5 GF/GA Ratio 0.71 (28th) 1.17 (9th)
Team Shooting % 7.70% 9.70%
Team Save % 0.881 0.934
Team PDO 0.958 1.031

Special Teams:

  NY Islanders Toronto
PP Success 23.5% (6th) 16.5% (19th)
5v4 GF/60 9.4 (5th) 5.3 (17th)
5v4 SF/60 53.5 (6th) 48.8 (14th)
PK Success 84.9% (7th) 81.7% (15th)
4v5 GA/60 5.6 (12th) 6.0 (14th)
4v5 SA/60 54.4 (27th) 45.7 (13th)

Numbers via Behind the Net’s Team and Fenwick pages and


Looking at the numbers above, the Islanders are close to a positive possession club, but they’ve gotten some horrible goaltending this season, costing them any sort of shot at a playoff spot. Their PDO has to be among the league’s lowest at .958.

They’re scoring fine and have an excellent powerplay that scores often and efficiently. They also generate a lot of shots on the kill. Their penalty kill, by contrast, has been a lot worse. Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov has made up for his .903 even strength save percentage by posting a .900 on the penalty kill. The average EV SV% is about 30 points higher than the average PK SV%, so that’s a total anomaly at this point. The Islanders’ penalty kill is more vulnerable than the success rate suggests.

Here are the Islanders’ projected lines:

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Matt Moulson – John Tavares – Brad Boyes
Josh Bailey – Frans Nielsen – Kyle Okposo
Colin McDonald _ Casey Cizikas – Michael Grabner
Matt Martin – Marty Reasoner – Eric Boulton

Travis Hamonic – Andrew MacDonald
Mark Streit – Radek Martinek
Lubomir Visnovsky – Thomas Hickey

Evgeni Nabokov
Kevin Poulin

The third and fourth lines for the Islanders don’t play all that often. If you check the usage chart for forwards, you can see that the Islanders do zone match quite often. Unfortunately, the strategy fails to get the top line on the ice with weaker competition. Jack Capuano doesn’t seem to be all that creative in the way he deploys his lines, so Randy Carlyle ought to be able to get the Mikhail Grabovski unit out against Tavares quite often.

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Unfortunately, that leaves Tyler Bozak against Frans Nielsen, and Nielsen is one of the NHL’s hidden gems. Aside from being dominant in the shootout, Nielsen has had a Corsi rate close to par in the last four seasons playing mostly against first liners. He appears to have fallen off a bit this year, but still a dangerous player to play against. Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk are cold, putting up a single scoring chance among the three of them in the last three games for the Leafs’ at even strength.

Not looking forward to Colton Orr probably being on the ice at the same time as the explosive Michael Grabner. The Leafs didn’t have a morning skate, so the lines will probably be the same. I haven’t heard otherwise:

James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur – Nazem Kadri – Colton Orr
Nik Kulemin – Mikhail Grabovski – Leo Komarov
Frazer McLaren – Jay McClement – Mike Brown

Dion Phaneuf – Korbinian Holzer
Carl Gunnarsson – Mike Kostka
Cody Franson – Mark Fraser

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James Reimer
Ben Scrivens

A note on the third pairing: Fraser and Franson are No. 1 and No. 2 in the NHL among regular players in individual PDO. That’s the addition of on-ice shooting percentage and save percentage. That is why they are leading the NHL in +/-. It has very little to do with their play, so don’t expect them to continue to get +2 nights in 5-2 losses. It’s going to start going the other way eventually.

Also, James Reimer is back. Ben Scrivens was good in the meantime, but Reimer is the better goalie and should get about 60% of the starts for Toronto. Not a lot in a short season, but the only thing that’s held him back in his career is injuries. 

Lines information from Left Wing Lock

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Game Notes: 

Rick DiPietro says Isles ‘ripped my heart out’ after being waived (Sean Leahy, Puck Daddy)

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