The New York Islanders came into a season with heightened expectations after a strong second half last season that saw them claim their first playoff berth since 2007. They made a few roster changes, adding Cal Clutterbuck, Peter Regin, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard to round out a strong top nine that includes John Tavares, Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey. Early on in the season, they traded unrestricted free agent-to-be Matt Moulson in exchange for unrestricted free agent-to-be Thomas Vanek.
Naturally, all these changes have resulted in an overwhelming amount of success on Long Island, yes?
Well, not exactly.
|Corsi Close %||50.1% (14th)||43.3% (29th)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.33 (11th)||2.05 (19th)|
|5v5 GA/60||2.62 (25th)||1.85 (5th)|
|PDO||99.1 (21st)||102.8 (2nd)|
|5v4 GF/60||6.87 (14th)||8.12 (6th)|
|5v4 SF/60||52.3 (18th)||58.5 (8th)|
|4v5 GA/60||10.50 (29th)||5.40 (10th)|
|4v5 SA/60||51.4 (15th)||62.1 (26th)|
|Penalty Differential||+9 (6th)||-11 (26th)|
I think most expected that while the team would struggle with goaltending, they’d at least do well in shot indicators, as they played very well in this regard in the second half of last season. In the statistical community, they were a popular pick not necessarily to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, but control the tempo and give the No. 1 seed a scare. Had the Penguins not wised up and gone to Tomas Vokoun for the fifth game of the series, there’s a chance that New York walks away with that series, only being eliminated in overtime of the sixth game after a very strong showing. Their Fenwick Close % in the playoffs was 52.4%.
Goaltending, though, has been an issue. Kevin Poulin had started three games in a row in place of Evgeni Nabokov, and Nabokov sustained an injury against Detroit in the Isles’ last outing. Nabokov and Poulin have combined for an .895 save percentage, although Poulin’s .909 mark is a little less ghastly. You can see above that the problems have mostly afflicted the Islanders on the penalty kill, where they’re 15th best at preventing shots down a man but 29th best at preventing goals.
Otherwise, the offence has been fine. The Islanders find themselves at 8-10-3, good for 6th in the weak Metropolitan Division, and can leapfrog into a playoff berth with a win tonight. The Leafs, meanwhile, struggle against quality opponents, but they match up better against the Islanders, whose problems lie in goal and on defence. The Islanders scoring against Leafs goaltending, which has been about as rock solid as you can get in the NHL, should be a very interesting matchup.
One more game with Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak out of the lineup, so again, if you can play centre, please report to the Air Canada Centre and ask for David:
James van Riemsdyk – Peter Holland – Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul – Trevor Smith – David Clarkson
Mason Raymond – Jay McClement – Nik Kulemin
Frazer McLaren – Jerred Smithson – Colton Orr
Dion Phaneuf – Carl Gunnarsson
Jake Gardiner – Cody Franson (?)
Morgan Rielly – Paul Ranger (?)
Carter Ashton sits tonight, much to my dismay. Cody Franson this season is a 38.6% Corsi alongside Morgan Rielly, and even though it’s been just 160 minutes, I think it’s time to end that brief experiment. I don’t think those two complement each other well, at least until Rielly learns to be a bit more patient with the puck inside his own zone. Of course, most players would be better with Jake Gardiner than with Rielly, I think it’s wise to limit Rielly’s minutes as he acquaints himself.
Up front, it’s the same as we’ve seen. Peter Holland passed the eye test Saturday night, but a) it was just one game b) it was the Sabres c) that line’s possession numbers weren’t particularly good, but again d) refer back to a).
Second line looks good. You have two of the best Leafs play-drivers this season on the wings and a skilled centreman in Trevor Smith who can shoot the puck, if anything. Not that I’d rather have Smith in there over Kadri, but it’s nice having depth guys that can stickhandle, rather than spark plugs. Jerred Smithson, on the other hand, does not look good. The Leafs have been out-shot 13-25 with him on the ice this year, which should tell you something about the archaic nature of his role as well as his limited offensive ability. Granted, he’s taken 49 of his 94 faceoffs in the defensive zone, but he’s also taken 27 in the offensive end.
For visiting Islanders fans… Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson will see a lot of John Tavares. Likely, so will the Holland line. Randy Carlyle deployed a dedicated checking line and did a lot of zone-matching last season, but he’s decided to run straight power-on-power this season. Smithson will usually come in as an extra centreman on defensive zone draws and has taken over that role from Jay McClement this year.
I’m annoyed when Carter Ashton gets sat. Islanders fans get straight frustrated when Michael Grabner, who is fourth in the league in goals per 60 minutes over the last three seasons, gets sat in favour of… well, take your pick:
Brock Nelson – John Tavares – Kyle Okposo
Josh Bailey – Frans Nielsen – Colin McDonald
Pierre-Marc Bouchard – Peter Regin – Cal Clutterbuck
Eric Boulton – Casey Cizikas – Matt Martin
Andrew MacDonald – Travis Hamonic
Matt Donovan – Thomas Hickey
Aaron Ness – Matt Carkner
If the Islanders have an obvious weakness, it’s on defence. Andrew MacDonald, a perpetual “most underrated player in the league” candidate is weighing down Travis Hamonic like a Rob Ford novelty paperweight (topical!). MacDonald has the team’s worst Corsi among top nine and top four players at 43.8%, and if you look at MacDonald and Hamonic’s WOWY, you’ll note that Hamonic is a remarkable 58.7% in the 58 minutes he’s played without MacDonald.
Injuries have hurt the team. After dealing Moulson for Vanek, Vanek’s been kept out of the lineup with a string of recurring injuries, and Lubomir Visnovsky has been out since mid-October with a concussion. Visnovsky and Thomas Hickey were part of the reason for the Islanders’ excellent second half last season, and Hickey’s done quite well in Visnovsky’s absence, posting a team-high 54.4% Corsi rate.
Up front, swapping Grabner for Colin McDonald doesn’t help the Islanders out in any way. While Grabner is scoreless in 12, he’s been one of the most efficient scorers in the league over his young career, and “the rest of his career” is a much larger sample size than “12 games”.
(and an anecdote as useful as most goalie statistics)
Looks like Jonathan Bernier versus Kevin Poulin. My father’s hometown is a small suburb outside of Montreal called Rosemère. Poulin is listed as being from Montreal, but you never quite know with suburbs where a player comes from. Some guides will list David Clarkson as being from Mimico as opposed to Toronto, but most people don’t know where places like Mimico or Rosemère are. Several players are listed as being from *my* hometown of Vancouver, but they tend to be from surrounding areas like Tsawassen or Burnaby or wherever. Two NHLers to my knowledge, Milan Lucic and Evander Kane, are actually from Vancouver. The reason I bring this up is because a player on Team QMJHL last night against the Russians, Anthony DeLuca, is actually listed on Elite Prospects as being from Rosemère! He could be the son of somebody my family knew growing up! Or not.
QUESTION OF THE GAME
Randy Carlyle rarely uses his fourth line, while it’s been argued that Jack Capuano overuses his. In the third period, will Carlyle continue to match his fourth line against Casey Cizikas’ unit, or will he look across over to the other bench, scratch his head, and send out van Riemsdyk and Kessel if Matt Martin is on the ice for a faceoff late in a close game?
The Leafs and Islanders drop the puck at 7:00 Eastern on Sportsnet Ontario.