What happened to the Islanders?
And, can they come back?
Analyzing the NY Islanders’ Fall
What’s Happening: Things are not looking so good for the New York Islanders at the moment. Currently, the team sits at 6th in the Metropolitan Division and 5th in the Wild Card race. At 45 Points, they’re a whopping 17 Points behind the final Wild Card team: the Boston Bruins, at 62 Points. After having reached the Stanley Cup Semifinals/Conference Finals in each of the past two seasons, reaching the same point this time seems unlikely.
So, what happened? For one, they’re not scoring enough. In the previous three seasons, the Islanders averaged 2.74 Goals For per Game Played. This season, it’s only 2.50. And while they managed a worse Goals Against per Game Played in 2019-20 (2.79), at 2.70 this season, the differential (-0.20) shows they’re clearly getting outscored. Otherwise, Power Play and Penalty Kill Percentages are sufficient and within range, and the same can be said about Shots For and Against. Thus, the biggest problems seem to be coming from the scoring side of things.
Who’s to Blame? As alluded to, it isn’t their Goaltenders. While Ilya Sorokin is winning (16-11-6) and Semyon Varlamov isn’t (3-9-1), you can tell from their Save Percentages that it isn’t their fault—Sorokin has a very respectable .921 and Varlamov isn’t far behind at .916.
Is it their defense? Productivity-wise, for the most part, no. Noah Dobson, Scott Mayfield, and Adam Pelech are all above their average Points per Game Played (P/GP). That said, Ryan Pulock has seen a substantial drop (-0.19 percentage points) from his average over the previous three seasons.
Is it scoring from their top-end? Not really. Mathew Barzal and Brock Nelson are within range of average.
After that, however, performance starts to drop off substantially in their secondary scoring.
Anders Lee is -0.18 percentage points off his average, Josh Bailey is -0.11, Kyle Palmieri is -0.28, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau is -0.17. Also, Anthony Beauvillier (0.44 P/GP), Zach Parise (0.41 P/GP), and Oliver Wahlstrom (0.46 P/GP) haven’t made up any slack. Moreover, don’t forget that they lost a critical piece in Jordan Eberle (0.58 P/GP), who went to the Seattle Kraken during the recent Expansion Draft. Combined, this situation makes for a sub-par Top Nine and fully explains the Islanders’ drop in scoring.
Can they make a playoff push? While it may seem unlikely, yes, they certainly can. Between 2013-14 and 2018-19, somewhere between 7 and 21 of 96 teams made the Playoffs with a similar Points Percentage at this point in their seasons. While the Islanders would need to go on a number of streaks, which is easier said than done, it isn’t inconceivable given their Coach (Barry Trotz), team (on paper), and past seasons’ performance.
However, the Islanders are clearly running out of time to right their ship. What’s worse, the leaders of the Eastern Conference are on a crazy clip, with the top six teams at a Points Percentage at or greater than .673. To contrast, in the Western Conference, only three teams fall within that range.
So, long story short, the Islanders need some secondary scoring...and fast. With over $8.5 Million in cap space to spare and the Trade Deadline quickly approaching, it might be wise for them to consider shaking things up and making some sort of acquisition. Otherwise, if they do nothing and/or nothing changes, they might as well start polishing their golf clubs.