New York Islanders: Defense is a weapon in the offensively-driven East

(Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images) /

The New York Islanders need to play to their defensive strengths.

The New York Islanders’ bread and butter is their ability to play lockdown defense, thanks to the structurally-strong defensive system head coach Barry Trotz has in place.

And even with the team’s number one defenseman, Adam Pelech, missing 30 games due to an Achilles injury, they still ranked in the top-10 in regards to goals against per game (2.79, ranked ninth) and in the top-5 in total goals allowed (190, ranked fifth).

In the playoffs, the team allowed 2.32 goals per game, a major reason for their long playoff run.

Offensively, the New York Islanders finished the regular season averaging 2.73 goals per game, which ranked 22nd in the league. Besides the New Jersey Devils (2.68 G/GP), every other team in this new East Division scored more goals per game.

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Goals Per Game:

Washington Capitals: 3.42

New York Rangers: 3.33

Philadelphia Flyers: 3.29

Boston Bruins: 3.24

Pittsburgh Penguins: 3.20

Buffalo Sabres: 2.80

New York Islanders: 2.73 

New Jersey Devils: 2.68

Now in the playoffs, the Islanders were able to increase that number, as when completely healthy the team scored 3.00 goals per game, which ranked fourth-best.

According to Natural Stattrick, the Islanders owned 48.04 percent of scoring chances per game during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the league. However, they scored on those chances at a 51.14 percent clip, which ranked 13th.

But again, offense has never really been their thing. To outsiders, the Islanders play a ‘boring’ brand of hockey. But whatever gets them wins, right?

During the regular season, only two of the East Division teams allowed fewer goals against per game: the Boston Bruins (2.39, ranked first) and the Philadelphia Flyers (2.77, ranked seventh). The Bruins were the only ones in this new division to finish ahead of the Islanders in total goals, allowing only 167 goals (ranked first).

Goals Against Per Game                                 Total Goals Allowed

Boston Bruins: 2.39                                          Boston Bruins: 167

Philadelphia Flyers: 2.77                                 New York Islanders: 190

New York Islanders: 2.73                               Philadelphia Flyers: 191

Pittsburgh Penguins: 2.84                              Pittsburgh Penguins: 196

Washington Capitals: 3.07                              Washington Capitals: 212

Buffalo Sabres: 3.02                                         Buffalo Sabres: 215

New York Rangers: 3.14                                 New York Rangers: 220

New Jersey Devils: 3.25                                  New Jersey Devils: 224

While the Islanders’ defensive group this year will have a few missing parts, head coach Barry Trotz has the utmost faith that Noah Dobson can replicate Devon Toews‘ play. Nick Leddy will see his responsibilities increase, moving from the third line to the second line to play alongside Scott Mayfield. With Johnny Boychuk unable to continue his NHL career due to an eye injury, the Islanders will slot veteran Andy Greene alongside the young Dobson.

If healthy, this defense should continue to be dominant.

As the offseason came and went, the Bruins and the Flyers lost some defensive pieces as well.

For the Bruins, they not only lost team captain Zdeno Chara (joined the Caps), but the more significant loss was 29-year old Torey Krug signing with the St. Louis Blues. Krug averaged 20:29 minutes per game last year, third on the team behind Charlie McAvoy and Chara. He was also fourth on the team in scoring, with 49 points (led defenseman). Even with Chara being in his early 40’s, he was second on the team in block shots (101) and second on the team in defensive points shared (5.0). Defensive Points Shared is a statistic that estimates the number of points contributed by a player’s defensive play.

At 23-year old, McAvoy is now the leader on the backend. Tuukka Rask, and Jaroslav Halak, will have to perform to the same tune of last year (Jennings Trophy) to keep this team at the top of the division.

The Flyers have not lost too much on the backend but did lose a critical piece. Stanley Cup winner Matt Niskanen decided to hang the skates up at 34-years of age. Niskanen was second on the team in blocked shots (84) and defensive points shared (4.1), ranking third in hits (124).

The Flyers’ season began last night, a 6-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 6-3. While it may look like a dominating win on the surface, Pittsburgh outshot their rivals 34-26. Carter Hart played strong, but the defense was questionable. But it is just one game.

There is no reason the Islanders shouldn’t finish with a top-five defense.  Part of the defense is the goaltending and veteran Semyon Varlamov and rookie Ilya Sorokin, have the ability to be a premier tandem this season.

The Islanders will be dominant if they can get a lead in games. Trailing in games and relying on the offense to come back will not result in much success. But what makes this Islander team so strong is that when they get a lead, they rarely give it up.

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Their defense has the ability to play a shutdown style that, more often than not, results in two points. This is an advantage they have over most, if not every team in this new division, which will help counteract their opponents’ offensive strengths.