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New York Islanders

Sputtering Power Play Slowing Down Islanders In Playoff Race

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AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

East Meadow, NY– Last season, the New York Islanders operated like an old car begging to be left in the junkyard when on the power play. Even when they were given a jump, they could never quite get started.

As a result, they finished the year third worst in the NHL on the man advantage. It left many reasonably concerned about the team entering this year over whether they’d even be able to make it past the starting line without a functional power play. 

But surprisingly, the Islanders’ power play has run like a well-oiled machine. Currently 11th in the league by converting on 22.7% of its chances, the unit has driven the Islanders for much of this year. 

Recently, though, it seems as if the Islanders have pushed their engine too far. 

Over the last month or so, the power play has begun to cough fumes, sputtering along with only seven goals in its last 42 chances entering play on Saturday. 

“Sometimes, you get grade-A chances, and goalies make good saves, and they don’t go in,” Noah Dobson said before the team set out on its most recent road trip. “Sometimes they go in all the time. But I feel like we’re still generating, and we’re still getting the chances and looks. I think that’s the main thing.”

Every now and then, teams go through a slump on the power play. It’s normal. But the one the Islanders are experiencing couldn’t have come at a worse time.

While in the heat of the wildcard race, they’ve converted on just 16.7% power play chances since Jan. 13. It’s only slightly below the league average during that span. But mind you, two of those goals came in their heartbreaking loss to the New York Rangers at MetLife Stadium, and another three came against Montreal on Jan. 25, a game they also lost.

“We’re trying to look for the perfect play sometimes,” Bo Horvat said. “Sometimes you just got to put the puck at the net and have guys go there. That’s usually how these goals have been scored, and a lot of goals have been scored that way for us, especially at the beginning of the year. I think we kind of got to get back to that at this point.”

The Islanders tried just that in their most recent game on Thursday.

Before allowing the St. Louis Blues to speed away with three goals in 32 seconds, the Islanders had two chances to build an early lead in the opening period on the power play.

Each time, they worked the puck to the front of the net, but Kyle Palmieri was left looking up at the ceiling in disbelief after being stonewalled by Jordan Binnington’s pad. The Islanders finished the evening 0-5 on the man advantage, making it their second straight game without a power play goal and their 10th such game in their last 14.

Still, the attempts the Islanders had against St. Louis were better than most they’ve generated lately. Their go-to strategy has been working the puck from the point and setting up one-timers from the circles. It worked wonders early in the season but has now grown stale.

“Shooting pucks from the blue line is a nice thing to do, but sometimes, [opponents] are in the shooting lane,” head coach Patrick Roy said. “When there’s no lane open, it’s time for us to move the puck.”

Moving the puck into the zone means the Islanders would need to enter it in the first place. For the most part, that hasn’t been an issue. But every now and then, the power play has shown shades of its incompetency from a year ago, unable to set up. 

That’s when Roy wants the Islanders to forget about setting up and instead just attack.

“If you can create a chance right off the bat, I like that, and then set up,” Roy said. “Right now, I feel like at first, we’re trying to take our time to find the proper setup. But remember, when you start a power play, they have to set up too, so this is when you can catch them off guard.”

The issues the Islanders are experiencing on the power play have started to compound the ones they’ve had on the penalty kill all season, making it all the more difficult to make up ground as they continue to fall behind in the wildcard race. With a record of 4-7-4, the Islanders have collected 12 of a possible 30 points in their last 15 games.

“Special teams are important,” Dobson said. “They have a chance to dictate, a lot of the nights, the results, especially this time of year when things are tight. Your power play can win you games, and your penalty kill can win you games as well, so it’s important to get both of those going for sure.”

Truer words have never been spoken.  

If the Islanders don’t fix both their special teams units, or at least one of them, they’ll likely break down before they reach the end of the road.

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