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30 for 30: What’s the biggest improvement needed this year?

As the hockey season draws near, there are many questions that will face the 2017-18 version of the New York Islanders. After missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign, the expectations are still high for the Isles. With an entirely new coaching staff and new blood ready to make an impact, this season could be something special, or the final chapter before major changes is made. Over the next 30 days, our Rob Taub will give his thoughts on what to look for from the blue and orange this season.

Over the course of an 82-game season, there’s always factors that determine what makes a team good or bad.

For the New York Islanders, those factors come in large numbers. We can talk about slow starts, secondary scoring, play in their own zone, special teams, etc. But the most obvious one that has plagued the players, coaches, and fans the past few seasons: Blowing leads.

If you’ve watched the Isles in the past five years, you’ve become accustomed to never thinking a lead is safe. Even when there is under a minute or even 30 seconds left in regulation. Some of those blown leads came in some of the most typical, and sometimes most odd fashions. Last year was no different.

In the first 21 games of the season, the Isles blew a lead seven times. That’s one-third of those games. Out of those seven games, they only won two of them. Those blown leads played a major part to how fragile the team was and how they began to plummet down the standings.

After those first 21 games, the team blowing leads began to stop. But on occasion, it would happen, so there was still a problem.

When Doug Weight took over for the second half of the season, the Islanders tweaked their system defensively. Those small improvements resulted in only two blown leads over a 41-game span. Playing with leads late, instead of sitting back, the Islanders would tire teams out and keep up the attack offensively. The other big improvement from that second-half surge that must translate over to this season is the team going for the jugular of the opponent to ensure that they have secured victory.

Moving on to this year, if you take those seven blown leads from earlier last season, five of those that ended in defeat, that’s ten points.

With how much better and competitive the Metropolitan Division will be this season; those ten points could be the difference between being in that top-four or being at the bottom of the division. Another aspect playing with leads this year, is the Islanders high-powered offense. The team has more than enough finishers on the attack now than in other seasons to make sure that blown leads are a thing of the past. Defensively, with how much Doug Weight is putting on conditioning in training camp, the team should be less lackadaisical playing with the lead. But also, the expression, “they stop skating” should become a non-factor because the team will be well-conditioned. Goaltending wise, Weight has implemented a new tweak wanting his goalies to see more shots. This change could definitely have a positive affect when the club is playing with the lead.

Looking at the slate this season, especially October, the Islanders will have their work cut out for them. How the Isles play with the lead from years past will determine how teams will identify how strong a team they are and whether they are a winning team. A lot of the experts are picking New York to miss the playoffs because of their defense and other factors, but they’ve undervalued the fact that how they play with leads is very much a part of that narrative.

The New York Islanders will answer a lot questions going forward by how they play this season. Not blowing leads will be one of the important ways how the team moves forward.

About Rob Taub

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