It has been a week since the New York Islanders played a hockey game. It was a 3-2 overtime win on Jan. 1 against an Edmonton Oilers team that had a nightmarish December and whose January has not started off on the right skate.
Edmonton head coach Dave Tippet called out his netminder Mikko Koskinen following a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers this past Tuesday, who responded by calling out the team in front of him. That result was followed by another loss, the Oilers seventh in a row, as they fell 4-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.
It has been a mess in Edmonton as, despite the offense of Connor McDavid (COVID-19 protocol) and Leon Draisaitl, the lack of defense and goaltending severely impacted their ability to win hockey games, as wel as put together strong postseason runs.
Edmonton’s ideology on how to win is the drastic opposite to what the Islanders’ mindest has been over the last few seasons.
For the Islanders, their play from their netminders and defense has translated to offense as of late. And to win games, all three areas of the ice need to be in sync. Before the break, that was the case as we look back on New York’s last four outings.
It Takes Two to Tandem
Sorokin picked up the win against Edmonton, as he allowed just two goals on 19 shots. Back on Dec. 19, the last game before the Islanders saw two games postponed and three games postponed along with the holiday break, Sorokin stopped 31 of 34 in the shootout loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.
Varlamov has won his last two starts, started the two games in between, with two of his better performances of the season. On Dec. 16, Varlamov picked up his first win of the season as it took him a little bit to find his game after missing all of training camp with an injury. Against a depleted
Boston Bruins team, Varlamov stopped 40 of 41, as he stood tall in the Islanders 4-1 win. In his last start last Thursday, he built on that performance as he stopped 36 of 37 in a 4-1 win over Boston.
The netminder duo has averaged a .939 save percentage along with a 1.67 goals-against average. To add to that, only one three goals of the high-danger variety have entered the back of the Islanders net over the last four games, on 32 high-danger shots (.906 HDSV%).
Success on Defense Translated to Success on Offense
Their strongest defensive performance of this recent stretch and possibly the season came against an Edmonton Oilers team with two of the premier forwards in the NHL. Although both McDavid and Draisaitl picked up points, the Islanders played their system to a tee.
Most of the shots allowed on the Islanders’ netminders came from the perimeter. They record 18 blocks in the process, 14 hits, and in the third period, shut down Edmonton, as the Islanders allowed only two shots and before none in the overtime frame.
The Islanders have allowed 32.75 shots per game over their last four, with the Islanders’ season average at 32.5. The difference is that the Islanders have allowed 31 scoring chances per game, which has been the average over the first 24 games. But plays have been made, and coverages have not been blown to the extent we saw earlier in the season.
The Islanders have allowed 1.82 goals against at even strength this season. Over the last four games, the Islanders have allowed just 1.2 even-strength goals.
It may not seem like a significant difference, but for a team that had been inept on offense, having allowed fewer goals per game has allowed for more points to be obtained.
The Islanders have scored a season-low 42 goals at even strength this season. That averages out to 1.5 even-strength goals per game. Over the last five games, the Islanders have scored seven even-strength goals per game.
The production in the offense has also come due to an increase in shots. Over the last four games, the Islanders have averaged 30.25 shots per game. New York’s season average is only 28.5, which ranks 28th.
Power Play Clicked
The Islanders’ power play sits at 18.7%, ranking 20th in the NHL.
But over these last four games, the power play has been a strength that has heavily impacted the outcomes. With four goals on 12 opportunities, the Islanders have operated at a 33.33% clip, which is a little less than double their season production.
Now the goals as of late are included in the 18.7%. Before the streak, the Islanders’ power play was at 15.87% (10 for 63).
Islanders captain Anders Lee has two of the four power-play goals, with Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier the other recipients.The puck movement has been crisper and the mindset of “keeping it simple” has allowed for more high-quality chances on goal, and in turn goals.