The Bruins, Blues, Tampa Bay and yes, you can throw in the Capitals for good measure as well. They’re the best of the best. Other than the fact that these teams are built to win now, what separates them from the New York Islanders and everyone else? What is it that the Islanders don’t have that will keep them as a really good regular season team and not a perennial playoff contender? Turns out, there is one stat that is very interesting and yet depressing at the same time: All four of these teams have one defenseman in the top five in power play points and the Islanders are very, very far away from them. Here are the top five defenseman in power play points compared to the Islanders top powerplay defenseman, Ryan Pulock.
1. Alex Pietrangelo St. Louis; 20 PP points
2. Keith Yandle Florida Panthers; 20 PP points
3. Torey Krug Boston Bruins; 19 PP points
4. John Carlson Washington Capitals; 19 PP points
5. Victor Hedman Tampa Bay Lightning; 19 PP points
T39. Ryan Pulock New York Islanders; 7 PP points
That’s a big difference folks. When your best powerplay defenseman has 1/3 of the point total needed to be in the top five, you can’t expect this team to dominate a regular season. Now to be fair with Pulock, Ryan had a total of nine last year, so he is improving at this point at the break. Nick Leddy finished last season with ten and currently has a whopping four while Devon Toews has already matched his second half season total of four and should improve those numbers. While their is some growth from the younger defenseman, the problem here is that all of the top five players single-handedly beat out the Islanders “Big Three” combined. Again to be fair to the Islanders, their power play went 14.5% last season to 19.5% right now. They’ll need to be as good or better in the playoffs.
So what do the Islanders need to improve upon if they can’t score on the powerplay or worse not get the calls that they should’ve been getting all season long? After what I’ve seen so far I’m not too optimistic about getting a lot of odd-man chances. Again if you look at those four teams you know they can run four lines and eventually wear their opponents out. Yes, the Bruins may be more of a one line show, but no one stopped them last year except for the Blues who are also more of a complete, four-line team. Do the Islanders have four lines to run? No, they don’t. Welcome to the trade deadline folks.
If the Isles want to go deep or even improve as an organization, a third line needs to be created. One glaring issue is that the Isles never really replaced departed center, Valtteri Filppula. Derek Brassard was supposed to be the answer, but has found better chemistry as a top six forward and at wing. The same can be said for Josh Bailey, who also prefers to be a top six wing over a middle six center. Michael Dal Colle has had a big merry-go-round of centers all season that there’s no wonder he can’t put up a string of points together. At right wing, Tom Kuhnhackl has been decent when healthy, but is still more of a depth forward while Uncle Leo is filling in for Cal Clutterbuck on the fourth line.
If the Isles were to make a trade for a center that could remind you of Filppula, Frans Nielsen, Mikhail Grabovski, a player that would fit this system and this center could find chemistry with at least Dal Colle, then more attention can me made to this new line and that would give the top nine more of a chance to either score or at least draw more penalties so that Ryan Pulock, Devon Toews and Nick Leddy can improve on those very low, depressing powerplay points. Of course, asking Matt Barzal to hold on to the puck for a much shorter time may be asking a bit much, but that could be another article for another day.
Are the Islanders really close to being one of the best of the best? A deep playoff team? They might be if they can run four lines and wear out their opponents like the others can. The powerplay is more like a dagger for other teams going up against the big four. I don’t think the Islanders are there just yet, but we still have a month to go before the trade deadline. I don’t see the Isles getting a powerplay defenseman, but getting a player or two for that third line is certainly more probable.