The New York Islanders slow start this season was due in large part to their uncharacteristic sloppy play and surprising struggles in the defensive zone.
Things got serious enough that head coach Barry Trotz had to separate his top defensive pair of Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech to try and fix the problem. Although it was not an ideal move so early in a season, it has helped the Islanders turn things around.
The midgame defensive shuffle against Chicago led the Islanders to a 3-0-1 record in their last four games as they zig-zagged across the country to start the season. The Islanders have been helped by a more confident Ilya Sorokin in net, but they’ve also seen more steady play on the backend.
The New York Islanders started their season 0-2-0, allowing 70 shots on goal over their first 120 minutes. They allowed 33 scoring chances (five on five play) to the Carolina Hurricanes in a season-opening 6-3 loss. In the season’s second game, the Islanders lost 5-1 and allowed 27 chances to the Florida Panthers.
The 11 goals allowed over that span was a sure problem.
New York didn’t make many drastic changes to their blue line, but the loss of Nick Leddy and the addition of Zdeno Chara didn’t produce the results early that they needed. Chara’s early struggles negatively impacted the play of Noah Dobson, who had been paired with him, while Greene and Mayfield — put with one another — struggled as well in their own zone.
However, things have changed for the better since Trotz’s decision to shuffle his defense midgame in Chicago.
Pulock was paired with Chara, Pelech was alongside Mayfield, and Greene and Dobson were reunited as the New York Islanders won 4-1. It was not a perfect game by any means, with netminder Ilya Sorokin bailing his team out left and right through the first 40 minutes before the Islanders finally started playing a version of their game.
The average of shots against per game hasn’t dwindled, but what has improved has been the scoring chances against. The Islanders have held their opponents to under 25 scoring chances per game and just 0.5 goals against at even strength.
Chara has continued to struggle, but having Pulock for support has masked some of his major mistakes.
Pelech has brought out the best in Mayfield. The security of having Pelech alongside him has allowed Mayfield to focus on his role rather than bailing out his partner on a regular basis.
Dobson, back alongside Greene, has looks more comfortable and confident. The advanced statistics tell a similar story.
The pairing of Pelech and Pulock saw 17 scoring chances against (SCA) through the first two games (5 on 5). Four of those 17 were considered high-danger chances against (HDCA), but the pair was on the ice for zero goals at even strength (39:68 TOI).
Chara and Dobson, through the first two games, allowed 21 SCA, 10 being high-danger. Three ended up in the back of the net (32:46 TOI).
The pairing of Greene and Mayfield allowed 14 SCA and four goals. They allowed a pairing-low three HDC (25:19 TOI).
Now with the changes…
Pelech and Mayfield have been on the ice for one goal at even strength over the last four games, in 60:36 minutes played. They have allowed 24 scoring chances, which was an Islanders low over that span, but 12 have been high-danger.
The pairing of Chara and Pulock has been on the ice for the most goals, three, but allowed the least amount of HDC at eight in 54:07 minutes together at even strength.
Greene and Dobson have not been on the ice for a goal over the last four games, allowing 10 HDC and 26 SCA in 43:13 minutes played.
Although the Islanders’ success recently has been due to Sorokin, the Islanders’ new pairings are helping to turn the tide. Is it sustainable long term though?
All advanced statistics in the article are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick