Special Teams Key For Islanders; Power-Play, Penalty-Kill Burns Jersey

The New York Islanders are finding ways to win instead of finding ways to lose. The Isles were never trailing in this one, although they did blow a 2-0 lead, a 3-2 lead, and a 4-3 lead. Regardless, the Islanders pulled through, saving the masses from tossing their remotes at their televisions, and taking to the Internet to voice their frustration.

An overtime goal by Brad Boyes sealed it for the Islanders, who improved to 4-2-1-0, good for a first place tie in the Atlantic with the New Jersey Devils. For the fifth time in seven games, the Islanders found a way to score at least four goals, this time against legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur, who coughed the puck up in overtime, ultimately leading to the game-deciding goal.

The Devils, who have not lost in regulation this season, made it tough for the Islanders, but like many of the Isles opponents this year, New Jersey was killed by a hot special teams unit. Yes, the Islanders continued their success on the power-play and the penalty-kill, resulting in another two points for the Islanders, and seven of a possible ten points on this five-game road trip.

Remember how frustrated you would get when the Islanders were given a man-advantage? I mean, even last season when the Islanders were 8th in the league, it felt like this team could not convert when up a man. This year’s different, though. The Islanders power-play is a power-house, and it doesn’t seem like anyone has a true answer to it.

The Islanders scored three power-play goals last night, including the overtime winner. John Tavares, Keith Aucoin, and Brad Boyes each found the back of the net on the special teams unit, as the Islanders are, seemingly, building a chemistry that is matched to none. John Tavares and the rest of the power-play unit went scored three times on four chances, giving the Isles at least 50% conversion for the third straight game, each on the road. That’s enough to take the wind right out of any home team’s sails.

Our Islanders power-play ranks first in the league through the first seven games of the season, operating at an astonishing 37.5%. They don’t seem to be letting up, either.

With that being said, none of our success would be where it is right now without the special teams units’ other half – the penalty-kill.

Featuring forwards Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner, Matt Martin, and yes, Marty Reasoner, the Islanders power-play is second best in the NHL, working at 96%. To this point, the Islanders penalty-kill unit has allowed only one goal, and is only behind Chicago (96.3%).

Michael Grabner has tallied a shorthanded goal, and had a breakaway chance lat night, which he slammed off the post.

On the defensive side, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald get the biggest workload, while Mark Streit and Brian Strait have grown into the unit’s second pairing. What’s impressive to me is how well this team is doing at taking away opposing shooting lanes.

A-Mac has blocked 20 shots through seven games, while Travis Hamonic has blocked 11 shots. Even Michael Grabner, who has done a wonderful job at interfering with passes at the top of the zone, has 10 blocked shots. Mark Streit and Brian Strait have 7 and 6 blocked shots, respectively. Even Mat Martin has gotten in the way of two shots this season, including an extremely hard slap shot from Evgeni Malkin. This team has only allowed 34 shots against on the penalty-kill, or 1.36 shots per kill.

This penalty-kill is one of the best I’ve seen, and as crucial, if not more so, to the Islanders than it is to any other team. I mean, if they hadn’t killed that penalty in the last two minutes last night, carrying into overtime, we wouldn’t even be talking about the Islanders winning in overtime last night. They only got the opportunity after the penalty-kill unit did their job for the 24th time on 25 chances.

Before the season started, I predicted the Islanders to make the playoffs as a 7th seed, mostly due to an improved power-play unit (top-5) and an improved penalty-kill unit (top-10). There is no understating the importance of the Islanders special teams units, as the Islanders only have two wins by more than one goal this season.

The Islanders have allowed the most goals on 5-on-5 play this season (21), so if the team wants to make the leap, their success on special teams will help paint that picture.

A few observations from the 5-4 win in Jersey:

-Marty Reasoner looks to be finding a role on this team. He had a couple of nice diving clears on the penalty-kill, and did you see that dangle in the second period? Marty intercepted the puck in front of Brodeur, and basically did a lap around the net with it. Shocked him as much as it shocked us, but he looked great.

-That’s the way you win a game in overtime against the greatest NHL goalie of all time. Beat him at his own game. Brodeur went behind his own net, and the Islanders forecheck forced him to be sloppy.

-That game tying 4th goal for the Devils was a tale of two defensemen. Brian Strai looked positionally sound, while Mark Streit looked like a chicken without a head. He lost his man, and it resulted in a goal.

-With that being said, Mark Streit was a +1, as was Brian Strait.

-Michael Grabner was a -3.

-The Islanders took a really bad penalty at the end of this one. Too-many-men, which has haunted the Isles since the Scott Gordon days, found it’s way to the game. Luckily, they killed it off, but man. Bad time for that.

-Over 31 minutes of ice time for Andrew MacDonald last night. Over 28 minutes of ice time for Travis Hamonic. Yes, they are our top pair.

-Eric Boulton fought Krys Barch in the first. I was happy. If we’re going to have Boulton in the line-up, that’s why.

-Thomas Hickey played 8:20. Matt Carkner played 7:20.

-My only concern with the minutes-gap this year is that, off a lock-out, I don’t want them to burn their top players,

-Only four hits for the Islanders last night.

-Keith Aucoin won 80% of his face-offs last night.

-Evgeni Nabokov had his second assist of the season last night. That gives him more points than Matt Martin, Marty Reasoner, Andrew MacDonald, Brian Strait, Matt Carkner, and Thomas Hickey.

-John Tavares can really take over games. 11 points in 7 games.

-Frans Nielsen has 7 assists on the season.

-Only Marty Reasoner and Frans Nielsen have yet to score goals this season for the Islanders forwards. Both are still contributing. Great to see.

The Islanders are 4-2-1 and play for first against the Devils on Sunday.

Follow @ChrisTriants

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About the Author: Writes at Islanders Op-Timism. Islanders Season Ticket Holder who tends to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hofstra Graduate currently working at Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl & Associates. I definitely want to end up working within the world of hockey. Blog: www.IslandersOptimism.com E-Mail: ChristopherTriantafilis@gmail.com Twitter: @ChrisTriants

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