Graziano: With Islanders, The Numbers Don't Add Up


It’s certainly been a tale of two beliefs this season for the New York Islanders, who continue to confound the members of Team Analytics with a 27-12-3 record, good for second in the Metropolitan Division and fourth in the entire league. 

Those screams of joy you hear are from Team Wins and Losses, which cares not for the fact that New York is at the bottom of the barrel in just about every major advanced category.

Power play is ranked 17th, shots on goal 30th, PDO (shot percentage plus save percentage) fourth, Corsi (puck possession) 30th, XGF (expected goals for) 29th and SCF (scoring chances for) 29th.

What the advanced metrics cannot account for is the heart and drive that head coach Barry Trotz has ingrained into his warriors. The willingness to dig deep after the season-ending Achilles injury to Adam Pelech and find scoring from within, even if president/general manager Lou Lamoriello continues to swing and miss. Anders Lee has game-winning goals in two straight games, beating the Avalanche on Monday 1-0 and New Jersey in overtime Tuesday night 4-3.

The Islanders celebrate after a goal by right wing Jordan Eberle against the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 7, 2020, at the Prudential Center.Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Images

Even Jordan Eberle got in on the act, scoring his fourth goal of the season (in 32 games) off an egregious Devils turnover. The search continues far and wide for the reason Eberle, who hasn’t scored fewer than 19 goals in his previous six seasons, cannot find the back of the net more often. To further perplex, Eberle’s low was during the first adjustment season under Trotz and his stifling defensive structure. 

The inconsistency has mirrored that of the offensive woes. New York lost three straight (one a shootout), then won two, lost two and won two. The Islanders are 11-9-2 after that torrid streak that catapulted them up the standings and has allowed them to remain there while they go through this rough patch. After opening the season 1-3, when they scored nine goals and allowed 13, the Isles were dominant in the 15-0-1 period, outscoring their opponents 58-36. Over the last 22 games, however, things have reversed course to the tune of 53-59. 

It’s ultimately your choice which kind of fan you are. Are you on Team Analytics, which might suggest the Islanders are closer in reality to their record of the last 22 games? Or are you on Team Wins and Losses, which says they are and can be as good as the “streak”?

I know it seems like the safe answer, but the middle might be the best place to reside. The Islanders could use an answer to their offensive struggles, namely across the second and third lines. With Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier and Derick Brassard all sitting way in the back of the struggle bus with Eberle, there simply is not enough help for the consistency of Mathew Barzal, Lee and Brock Nelson. 

On defense, the injury to Pelech complicates things with Noah Dobson struggling to get himself up to speed after spending so much of the season a healthy scratch and now having to learn to play his off-side. Semyon Varlamov has taken over the primary goaltending, and rightfully so with Thomas Greiss slipping a little over his past five starts (15 goals allowed). 

The Islanders, 42 games in, have played a lot of playoff-style hockey to this point. It’s asking a lot of this group to maintain this intensity and defensive responsibility for the next 40 games and then turn it up even another notch and navigate a ridiculously good division and conference when the playoffs start. 

Maybe my fears go unfounded. Maybe Lamoriello finds a way to bring in some help. Maybe Eberle finds his magic stick. Maybe the three B’s (Bailey, Beauvillier, Brassard) find their game from six weeks ago. Maybe the defense holds up and suffers no more injuries. Maybe they defy all the analytics again.

Why do I put the Islanders in the middle of their “two seasons” thus far? That’s an awful lot of maybes, that’s why.

Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyGraz_WFAN.