Last night’s 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild was nothing unexpected for a lot of Isles fans. There is no moment of an Islander game that does not merit some level of anxiety, whether winning or not. We have seen time and again this team’s ability to drop a lead, which is particularly discouraging considering, earlier this season, we found ourselves being one of the best comeback teams in the league. Now, we cannot seem to put the puck in the net.
The offense has been a concern for several years now. I have personally tried not be overall negative about the Isles in my writing, but right now it feels the entire fan base is at a boiling point. In an extremely tight race for a playoff spot, the Islanders have now dropped 5 of their last 6 games, only managing to score 5 goals in the last 4 of those (all losses). Additionally, Ilya Sorokin has been performing at a Vezina-level of play basically all season. His record, 14-14-2, is not reflective of his game, but rather the lack of support he’s had in front of him. He currently has a .926 SV% and 2.29 GAA, and hovers at the top of the league in terms of Goals Saved Above Expected.
The Islanders should be winning regulation games that they allow only 1 goal against , such as with Dallas on Tuesday (2-1 S/O L). Last night against the Wild, with 8 minutes left and a one-goal lead, there was zero sense of safety for closing out the game. I don’t have these kinds of stats, but if there is any team in the NHL that lets up goals in the final 10 minutes (or even 30 seconds) more than the Islanders, I would be absolutely shocked.
Blowing leads and wasting power plays have been the two biggest ailments to this organization for years. How does a team address that? You can look at all factors involved, like team character or poor match-ups, but there is no getting around the fact that we simply lack high-level offensive talent to be a playoff NHL team. The top teams are just too good. There is no room for mediocrity anymore, and for the first time since Lou has joined the franchise, I am legitimately questioning his effectiveness (I may be late to the party, but two Cup-runs is more than I’ve seen in my lifetime, so I’ve been grateful). He joined with the intention of creating sustainable success, and it started out well, for sure. But now that we have fired our legendary head coach, we have seemed to pump the brakes on more moves to help us out. Whether or not you agree with firing Trotz, Lane Lambert is certainly not a bad coach, and I personally have liked him, thus far. With the exception of Bailey’s ice time in critical moments, I am not displeased with Lane’s efforts, and enjoy him as a leader for the Islanders.
Lou has emphasized role-players and their importance to creating a well-balanced team. This is incredibly valuable indeed, but are second-line duds more valuable than having another superstar forward to supplement Barzal? The answer is undoubtedly: NO. The results are in, and our current roster is not going to take us to the Cup. The league is too competitive.
With a lot of speculation around trade options and a GM that is notoriously secretive, there is no telling if we will make any moves, let alone who we could land in a trade and what we would have to give up. But in terms of unlocking the current roster, how do we produce more offense? One of the prime Islander struggles for YEARS has been the power play. I’m not even sure I’ve lived long enough to witness the Islanders dominating special teams (26 years), but being able to score a few goals with a man-advantage could absolutely contribute to fixing our offense problem.
Regardless, our power play is brutal. The Islanders sit at 27th in the league (18.3%) in power play percentage, and are only 21st in Goals For , in general, with 131. San Jose, St. Louis, and Vancouver are all ahead of us in goal-scoring at the moment.
A power play is effective when the players lucky enough to be on it are skilled enough to take advantage of a missing opponent. A player needs to be talented enough, or have enough hockey sense to abuse holes in a penalty kill and create space and opportunities. One of the most obvious faults in our power play is the lack of movement: of bodies and the puck. Reader, what do you think of when the words “Islander Power Play” come to mind? To me, it is someone on the half-wall, standing completely still and looking around to maybe have a pass between the guy down low and the d-man up top. The only shots we seem to find are point shots that , if they make it to the net, typically lead to no further chances. There is no sense of urgency; no sense that if we can’t score some goals we won’t even sniff playoffs by the end of the season. Every team around us in the standings is winning games and moving up, while we remain still or dropping down further.
When players are moving around and making efforts to create plays, you will see the opposing PK have to adjust, and in those movements, or scrambles after a shot attempt, that a power play unit needs to be able to keep possession of the puck and get shots on net. The Isles are a slow team, which could work fine if they were moving the puck efficiently enough, but without either advantage of speed or skill, there is not much success to be expected. The mindset of the power play needs to change. There has to be chances taken for goals to go in; there is no perfect play if we want to become effective at all. If Butch gets anything right on the broadcast, it’s his desire for a little more urgency and shooting.
The current PP Units, despite changing here and there (i.e., Pelech injury), typically go as follows:
Unit 1 – Lee – Pageau – Barzal – Nelson – Dobson
Unit 2 – Parise – Bailey – Beauvillier – Pulock – Aho
Lee is a solid net-front presence and battles well behind the net and in corners. Barzy is obviously not a major concern either, in terms of skill. With Pelech still out with injury, I support Aho as an option considering he is trigger-happy on the point. Parise is honestly a stud, Pulock has one of the hardest shots in the NHL, and Nelson has proven he can score with the best of them when he is on his game. In terms of personnel, the only players I would remove from the PP overall would be Bailey, and possibly Beauvillier. Bailey, despite his occasional amazing plays, is relatively useless for a PP. He is not a quick skater, and coughs up the puck far too often. Beauvillier is a mystery, as he has the speed and skill of a solid star forward, but hasn’t really done much with it in the regular season for most of his career. Consistency has been an issue for most Islanders, really, and injuries have stalled us, too, still missing Palmieri and Wahlstrom on offense.
If I was magically given control of the Islanders power play, and still without Pelech, Wahlstrom, and Palmieri, I would create a lineup somewhat like this:
Unit 1 (same) – Lee – Barzal – Nelson – Dobson – Aho
Unit 2 – Parise – Barzal – Pageau – Pulock – Mayfield
The existing Unit 1 makes a lot of sense. Each player needs to be given a chance to put their top skill to the test. Lee would remain in front of the net. However, I would shift Pageau down to keep him with Parise, and would double-shift Barzal. We know he has the lungs for it, so it shouldn’t be a problem with a man-advantage, unless it is clear in a specific game that he is not feeling it. I would use Fasching in Barzal’s place, in that case. He is a grinder with offensive skill and deserves a chance to prove it since we desperately need it. Ideally, Raty would mixed in there, but he hasn’t solidified an NHL roster spot yet. That man can shoot the puck! Nelson and Dobson can rip it from the point or half-walls, too. Putting Aho on the first unit is sketchy, but he shoots and has decent hands, as well as speed. Power plays can be sketchy if the discipline is there. Pageau is the current leader in PP goals (5), and is always reliable in terms of effort. Parise can do well in front, and Mayfield has an underrated tendency to get pucks to the net. I’d take a chance with that heavy shot of his. It feels weird even to suggest, but putting faith in fringe guys could be useful if they’re primed properly, and whatever we’ve been doing ain’t workin’ anyway! Some of this may change if there is a noticeable chemistry between guys who aren’t typically paired, but that’s not something a fan is going to have a chance to notice as much as a coach, of course, but the idea is to be a little creative with allowing ourselves a chance to cash in on power plays.
There needs to be a more clear effort to create opportunities for the shooters to shoot, and the passers to pass (or shoot). There needs to be a mission-statement beyond just operating in the opposing D-zone for a few minutes. This is all not to mention the short-handed goals we’ve let up, too, including the tying goal last night against the Wild.
Having gone 0-3 in the shootout, as well, I would prescribe shootouts basically every practice. There are ways to make it fun, of course, but either way, we have not seen any hope of success in the shootout. Sorokin can stop 2/3 guys, but we can’t expect to score more than 1 based on what we’ve seen thus far. There is also the mental effort that needs to go into studying each opposing goalie, particularly for the shoot-out, but for all games, in general. Let’s get those hands moving, fellas! Shots from the hashmarks haven’t done it for us yet.
I honestly hope I never feel obligated to write with such discouragement again, but even now I still believe we have a chance to turn it around. That window, however, is closing fast. Let’s see if Lou will deliver on a trade to bring in more talent. If he does, who would you like to see come to the Island? And who are you willing to part with to do so. The boys continue their home stand, facing off against Montreal tomorrow @ 7pm EST.
Let’s Go Islanders!