Hello readers, and before we progress to the meat and potatoes of this article, I would like to take a moment to revel in the shared jubilance of the Flyers’ series victory over the Montreal Canadiens. It wasn’t the prettiest, and the Flyers were out-Corsi’d in every game, but staunch defending, adjustments, and brilliant goaltending by Carter Hart got the job done. Thank you Flyers, and for the first time since 2012, we can look towards a second round matchup.
And now, on with the show, where I’ll be taking a look at the New York Islanders and how they fared against the Washington Capitals in the first round. For Washington, it was a series to forget, as the Islanders bounced them out of the bubble in five games, It was, in the end, a very one-sided series that showed just how well the Islanders are coached. I re-watched highlights from the series and took a look at the stats in preparation, and now have for you, five observations that I took away from doing so:
The Islanders controlled the momentum battle handily and easily created more chances on a game by game basis
This was especially true as the series progressed, though with the noted exception of the elimination game the Capitals won, and the proceeding game five where the Capitals were fighting to stay alive (I’ll have more on that game later).
It’s interesting to look at since in the end, the Capitals actually won the Corsi battle, 52.74% to 47.26%. However, on a game-by-game basis, the Capitals never won that race until they were on the brink of elimination. This shows me that, perhaps like the Canadiens, the Islanders are going to come out with their tails on fire at the start of every game, and that they aren’t going to let a bad result one night affect them the next night. We know that they are stylistically comparable to the Canadiens, so they’re going to come right out of the gate forechecking heavily and hassling players on the puck, so the Flyers will need to be ready to play from the opening face-off, and avoid getting buried in the Corsi battle.
The Islanders like to crash and crowd the net
Though we already knew this to an extent, it really shows up in the series data.
Just look at where the Islander goals are being scored at 5-on-5, and the amount of heavy pressure they apply in front of the net. Even on the power play (which is noticeable on the first goal the Islanders scored in Game 5) they like to crowd the crease and get chances from rebounds and deflections, and while they don’t necessarily fall back on a low-to-high style, they aren’t afraid to let their defense shoot from the point and hope for chaos.
This is one of the reasons why the Islanders are able to win games (such as they did in Game 5) while being heavily out-chanced. They, primarily, are strong from a systems perspective defensively and forecheck teams to death, but they throw pucks on net from near any angle with men in front, and unlike the Canadiens, have more skill to make creative plays with the puck down low to result in higher quality chances. They do the same things as Montreal when attacking, but with that extra level of polish and creativity to find a pass where Montreal would’ve just shot the puck.
They counter effectively and can shut it down defensively
Especially with their speedy young forwards in Mat Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier, they like to keep them high in the defensive zone in order to facilitate these counter attacks, and like I said, they also have the skill to make plays happen.
This only works since the Islanders’ defensive system is so rigid and effective. They are well coached, and give teams little space when attacking, and work hard to stick check, play the body, and force turnovers. They then emphasize the “keep it simple” approach when transitioning up ice, though with the noted caveat of allowing their young, talented forwards some creative freedom when they get their engines revving through the neutral zone.
This means that they can still find ways to win when they lose the battle for possession and are generally outplayed. They simply park the bus defensively and play countering hockey, which has proven effective for them.
Their best players are looking like, well, their best players
All of Anders Lee, Derick Brassard, Jordan Eberle, Mat Barzal, and J.G. Pageau have a Corsi-For percentage over 51.00%, Especially for Lee and Beauvillier, they are outperforming their expected metrics. In the Capitals’ series, they both exceeded their individual expected goal marks (1.12 ixG for Lee and 1.0 ixG for Beauvillier) as they both have two goals each at 5-on-5 play. The pair have also amount for 15 of the Islanders’ 48 high danger chances.
On top of this, their defensemen have been solid. Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech are performing well, easily aiding the team’s possession and play driving (on top of Pelech playing 83:25 in the series, quite a lot of ice time). Otherwise, though, their other defensemen have been slightly buried in the chance metrics, though that just tends to happen with the Islanders. Yet somehow, the Trotz magic continues.
They’re getting very good goaltending
Starting all five games against Washington, Semyon Varlamov stopped 86 of 89 Capitals shots at 5-on-5, resulting in a 0.966% save percentage, which I’ve heard is pretty, pretty good. Additionally, since there is an expected goals against on Varlamov of 5.92, you can make the assumption that he’s actively saved those extra goals, which is backed up by the eye test. Varlamov has looked solid in net, and has stood strong against some heavy Capitals pushes late in games.
However, his weakness would be on the power play. He let in four power play goals in the series when the expected tally amounts to 2.91 goals (though you could also attribute this to their penalty kill skaters, who by all accounts have looked pretty bad). Of course, you also can’t ignore that they had to face Alex Ovechkin, who is maybe the best power play shooter in history, but I will reason that the Islander penalty kill hasn’t been good regardless, and that Varlamov hasn’t been able to carry them in that regard.
The Flyers first face the Islanders on Monday, with a 7:00 PM EST start time. You can also read more of our thoughts about the Islanders here. Kurt wrote about facing them all the way in the before time of July when they still hadn’t beaten Florida yet.