New York Islanders: Five Things They Need to Fix Next Season

May 3, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates a goal in game three of the second round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center. Tampa Bay Lightning won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

May 3, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates a goal in game three of the second round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center. Tampa Bay Lightning won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Islanders approach the 2016-17 season, with the hopes of improving on their 100 points and a second-round appearance in the playoffs last year. What do they need to work on in order to do so? Here are five areas for improvement:

The New York Islanders have high hopes for 2016-17. Namely, make the conference finals for the first time in what would be 24 years. But in order to get there, they need to go through a grueling 82 game regular season schedule.

Last season saw the Isles put up a second 100 point campaign in a row. Those 100 points were good enough to get them to the post-season through the first wildcard spot in the east.

It’s hard to say that 100 points isn’t a success, it got them to the playoffs. And afterall, isn’t that the entire point of the regular season? Win enough games to make it to the playoffs?

The Philadelphia Flyers made a late season push, thanks in large part to the anthropomorphized emojis that is Shane Gostisbehere. We could have missed the post-season.

So what are five things the New York Islanders need to address in 2016-17 in order to limit the potential of emojis spoiling the party?

“New coach!” “Get a new GM!” “Another top six forward!”

Sure. You’ve been heard already, and guess what? Neither of those are happening. At least not just yet. So assuming that all staffing, both on and off the ice remain the same, what are some of the things the Islanders can improve through the 2016-17 season?

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Mar 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Islanders forward Ryan Strome (18) shoots the puck prior to the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Strome

It might feel tough to point the finger at a single player in a team sport, but who personified whatever was plaguing the Islanders last season better than Ryan Strome?

Consider this. Ryan Strome has the sharpest decline in point production for the team with a -22 decline. John Tavares comes in with a -16. But, show of hands on who’s ready to put any blame on Tavares? …That’s what I thought.

Figuring out what’s eating Ryan Strome is going to be priority number one for the Islanders. From comments Garth Snow has made over the summer Strome is going to be slotted at center this season. Likely taking over for the departed Frans Nielsen. 

Having a minimum of two functional lines is a necessity for any NHL team to be successful. Three would be fantastic, but two is a bare minimum.

He still hasn’t signed a new deal with the team so who knows what his status is come opening day of the season. Based on the active roster the Isles cap space is around $4 million, depending on which resource you use for cap space. Which should be more than enough for at least a bridge deal based on last season’s performance.

But let’s assume a deal is done and Strome is back in the lineup by the season opener at MSG. The priority is to get him back to 2014-15 levels. Because the season will be defined by what he can do. Unfortunately.

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Nov 10, 2015; San Jose, CA, USA; New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano talks with his team during the game against the San Jose Sharks in the 3rd period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports.

Shooting Rate & Differential 

Measuring shooting metrics has become so important that not only so we pour over shot totals, shooting forms the basis of possession metrics as well. Corsi and Fenwick stats are entirely based on shoots and used to infer possession, because if you shot the puck you were, intuitively, in possession of the puck.

But the New York Islanders struggled at the tail end of last season when it came to generating shots. They still managed to win games but their shooting differential just won’t  be sustainable over the course of the season.

The Isles finished last season with a cumulative shot differential of -83. A number that was actually as high as +13 as late March 6th. Meaning that with 19 games remaining on the season the Isles cumulative shot differential lost 96 points.

 As most of you know March 6th was the last full game that Halak would play on the season. Going down with injury two days later against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Obviously, Halak wasn’t getting the pucks to net himself. But as Halak went out, so did the teams shooting differentials. Before Halak went down the Isles shooting differential averaged 0. After Halak’s injury, it went to a -5 average.

You can’t expect to be outshot every night and win. In the short term it’s sustainable (like at the tail end of the season). But over the long run, it’s going to catch up with the team.

 

Oct 23, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Boston Bruins center David Krejci (46) controls the puck against New York Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan (44) during the third period at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Better Conference Record

The Islander’s record last season was an impressive 45-27-10. With 19 of those wins coming from the 28 games they played against Western Conference opposition. Another 18 wins coming from 30 games against Metropolitan Division rivals. And just eight from the other 24 games against teams in the Atlantic Division.

If there’s a potential for improvement it’s that 33% win percentage against Atlantic Division teams. Winning more divisional games would be great, but that 60% win rate is good enough to get them through the division. And that 68% win ratio against Western teams realistically can’t get much better.

Specifically, the Isles need to improve against two teams; the Montréal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins. Against both teams, last season the Isles went a combined 0-6-0. Not getting a single point from a possible 12. Just one win would have catapulted the Isles out of the wildcard and into that third playoff spot in the Metro. 

We can argue if that would have been disadvantageous or not, but leapfrogging the Rangers in the standings is worth it.

Last season, we played the Habs right in the think of their league dominating form. Maybe if we met Montréal in December, when they started their decline into the worst team in the league, things may have been different.

The Habs will have Carey Price back this season, barring a re-aggravation of his injury in the World Cup. Getting points against the Habs is possible, but difficult when Price is in form. Boston on the other hand, hasn’t changed too much. They lost Loui Eriksson and gained David Backes. Arguably a wash in terms of quality, and even a down grade, depending on who you ask.

Keeping a similar record and picking points up against Atlantic division teams would help the Isles avoid the pitfalls and perils of the wildcard. 

 

Apr 14, 2016; Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers right wing Teddy Purcell (26) scores a goal past New York Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss (1) as defenseman Calvin de Haan (44) looks on first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at BB&T Center. The Islanders won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Play a Full 60 Minutes

News flash: the game of hockey is 60 minutes long, broken into the 20 minute periods. But the Isles find themselves with a lot of work to do in the second period.

By computing the Islanders cumulative goal differential for each period we were able to decipher where the Isles figuratively: “took their foot off the pedal”.

Some of you can probably guess what period was the Islanders weakest last season, just by watching them play. Did you guess the second period? Cause that’s the answer. From game 41 of the season to game 82 the Isles went from a cumulative +5 second-period goal differential to a -4.

The Isles, in the later portion of the season, tended to put in a decent effort in the first, kinda labor about for the second period, then turn on the jets in the third period. At one point establishing a +19 cumulative goal differential in the third period by February 25th.

That extra effort in the third is great but it rarely changes the effect of the game. From the second to the third period the Isles changed a losing position to a winning 3% of the time, and actually went from a winning position to a losing one 10% of the time. So that concentration of efforts in the third period didn’t do much for the Isles.

 

Mar 3, 2016; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano reacts on the bench during the first period against the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Game Management

I wanted to further that last point in hammering home the notion of game management. By game management, I mean closing out games where the Isles are in a winning position. 

This was measured by comparing how often the Islanders ended the second period in a winning position, and how many times that winning position stayed by the end of the game.

We say in the previous slide that the Isles tend to ramp up their offense in the third period after letting it go in the second period. Was the actually helping in the points column?

In 2015-16, the Isles entered the third period in a winning position 47 times. Of those 47 times, the Isles had that winning position change from a losing to a tieing one 32% of the time.

For the majority of the time, the Islanders were able to maintain that winning position. But, a third of the time they lost a few points in the standings.

To take a step forward from last season the Islanders are going to have to stop shedding points from winning positions.

We’re talking about marginal changes here, with all five fixes. The Islanders were a winning team with a 100 point haul last season. They weren’t perfect with a few area’s needing some slight improvements. Improvements that will have them back in the playoffs and pushing for that conference finals appearance.

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