The New York Islanders have developed a new habit recently, and it is not one that head coach Barry Trotz wants to see continue moving forward.
The Islanders have developed an ugly habit of surrendering the first goal of the game over their last four contests, which has made life much harder than it needs to be for them. The Isles managed to salvage wins in Philadelphia and Boston after allowing their opponents to control the game early, but that won’t be the case every night.
All you have to do is look at what happened in Pittsburgh on Monday to see why trailing early is not a method that will work in the long run. The Islanders fell 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins after allowing two first-period goals, but they did find their game in the second and third periods.
The Islanders’ record clearly reflects that they’ve struggled when their opponent scores first. They are 8-9-2 when allowing the first goal.
So what has happened to the Islanders that surrendering the opening goal has become a trend.
Part of that has to do with the Islanders’ lack of success in the face-off circle. At one point this season, the Islanders were towards the very top in the NHL when it came to face-off percentage. Now the Islanders sit in ninth, with a 51.2 success rate in the face-off circle.
Over their last four games, they have only won 42.15 percent of their draws.
The New York Islanders have won a mere 26 of 76 draws (34.2 percent) over their last four first periods, which is far from a winning formula. Winning Face-offs are the quickest and most effective way to garner possession and opposing teams from the get-go have been able to establish control early in games.
Without Anders Lee, one of the Islanders’ top goal scorers, the ability to create offense has to be the priority for New York.
It has also played a part in the number of penalties the Islanders have taken in the opening period during this recent stretch of games. The Islanders have averaged two penalties over their last four first periods, while their opponents have averaged 0.75.
The penalty kill for the New York Islanders has done a solid job, killing off four of the six power plays against, but that has limited Islanders coach Barry Trotz’s ability to run all four lines. It also keeps players like Mathew Barzal and Oliver Wahlstrom — two of the Islanders’ best offensive weapons — off the ice for extended periods of time.
And when you look at the Islanders’ recent trend another glaring issue comes to light, which has been their lack of shots on net, especially in the first period.
The Islanders have averaged six shots in the first period through these four games, whereas their opponents have averaged 8.79. Not a major disparity, but a disparity nevertheless. The Islanders have always been a more quality over quantity shooting kind of team, but the lack of shots has come from a place where players like Barzal or Brock Nelson are making the unnecessary move or pass.
— Eric Hornick (@ehornick) March 29, 2021
As the great saying from The Office goes: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take – Wayne Gretzky – Michael Scott.” Oliver Wahlstrom has embraced that idea, but the rest of the Islanders could certainly take a cue from it.
Over the last four games, the Islanders have been outscored 6-0 in the opening frame. The Islanders netminders only own a save percentage of .829 in the previous four first periods. But after those first periods, the Islanders have outscored their opponents 8-4. This offensive production late has led to two comeback wins, but unfortunately, two losses based on the holes dug after twenty minutes.
The Islanders do not need to score a goal in the first period for it to be a good period for them, and being ready out of the gate would have gone a long way over the last four games. A better effort in the face-off circle would have led to more offensive opportunities, which would have led to more puck control, more time in the offensive zone and more shots.
It also leads to more chances to draw a penalty and get time on the power play. It all correlates.
Playoff hockey, what the Islanders hope to be playing come the end of the regular season, is not a place where trailing early leads to wins. The Islanders were so dominant in last year’s postseason because they put themselves in positions to win hockey games.
Right now, they are doing the complete opposite.