Please Don’t Overreact
PDO is more than luck.
There is a statistic that will back up almost any narrative an analyst could have. There are many in the NHL, that want to disparage the Islanders success this season due to a high PDO. It can be said that the Islanders are actually one of the luckiest teams in the league. PDO (which is an acronym for nothing actually), is calculated by adding the team shooting percentage and save percentage at even strength. The league average is a theoretical 100, (since shooting and save percentage are directly correlated). The belief is any team over 102 is playing lucky, while any team playing under 98 is considered unlucky. As of today, the Islanders currently sit at 102.3. This leads many in the hockey community to discredit the Islanders start. This does not account for the fact that both shooting percentage and save percentage are both skills. Generally, the better shooters have a higher shooting percentage and the better goalies have a better save percentage. This particular statistic is calculated saying each team takes the same quality of shots, and that it is only the quantity that matters.
The Islanders are currently (as of 1/10/19) 9th in the league in shooting percentage, with a 10.4%. The league average is currently 9.7%. Therefore, some of the Islanders PDO comes from the fact that they have a higher chance of scoring on a shot then the average NHL team. Part of that reasoning comes from a concerned effort to take quality shots and not just bombard the goalie with shots. Last season the Islanders had a shooting percentage of 10.1% which was almost a full percentage point over the league average of 9.2%, this placed them 7th in shooting percentage. The year prior they scored on 10% of their shots which was above the league average of 9.6% which was good for 10th place. In fact, 2014-2015 was the last season in which they Islanders were league average or worse in shooting percentage. The skills for scoring goals is different from the skills of shooting the puck. This evidence proves to me that the Islanders take better quality shots than the average team.
The main driver of the surge up the PDO rankings is save percentage. The Islanders currently sit 6th the league with a .915 save percentage (league average is .904). Unlike shooting percentage there is no track record of top results to look back on to justify this growth. Last year they were 28th, with a .900 save percentage compared to the league average of .908. It would be safe to assume that there would be some progression to the mean, but this jump from the bottom of the league towards the top may be a little too good to be true. The good news is that they eye test can explain some of these issues. This team is playing a defense. Last year they gave up the most shots, and the year prior they were in 2nd in shots conceded, they currently sit in 22nd place on shots allowed. This comes from a new emphasis on playing organized hockey. Scoring opportunities are down, therefore goals against are down. The Islander goalies are getting chances to make easier saves then they did in seasons prior.
When it comes to save percentage, the biggest change for the Islanders has been the addition of Robin Lehner. Since he is currently on his third team, he can be considered a bit of a journeyman. This season from Lehner has been unexpected, but not necessarily impossible. While his current .927 save percentage is the best he has ever posted, he did post a .920 save percentage in 59 games two years ago (league average for that seasons was .910). Which shows that a better then average season is possible. There was a time not too long ago when Lehner was considered a top goalie prospect. He was the second goalie drafted in the 2009 draft (after Mikko Koskinen, who was drafted by and played for the Islanders). The 2015 NHL draft saw the Sabres trade a first round pick to Ottawa for Lehner. After dealing with some demons in the offseason, Lehner may become the goalie that many thought he would be. It would not have surprised many people in 2015, for Lehner to be an All-Star caliber goalie.
There is no reason to believe that the Islanders can not continue in this direction. This is being written during a time when the Islanders are playing their best hockey so their numbers are slightly inflated (they went down after the Carolina game Tuesday after I wrote my first draft). These numbers will go down. The Islanders are not the best defensive team in the league, and Robin Lehner is not the best goalie in the league. They are good though, there is no reason to believe that they cannot continue this trajectory. Washington, Pittsburgh, and Tampa are in a class by themselves in the East, the thought that the Islanders are in that class is a bit of a dream. They have shown that they are not a bottom feeder in the East either. The Islanders PDO is an easy target for those who believed that the Islanders would not be good this season, but there is more than meets the eye.