Everything has just about gone right for the New York Islanders, who, are on the cusp of winning an 11th straight game if they defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight.
They’ve scored in bunches, are playing rock-solid defense, and have gotten fantastic goaltending. But, there are two key points that have not gotten enough attention — the penalty kill and the first line.
During this run, the Islanders have killed of 27 of their last 30 times shorthanded. That’s an astounding stat for a club who in their first three games of the year gave up three goals in seven tries on the penalty kill. The dramatically improved penalty kill has shot the Islanders into the top-ten in the league; foxsports.com has them pegged currently ninth in the league. The difference between those first couple games and now is how much more aggressive the pk-ers look too.
Take Adam Pelech for example.
Pelech, who has quickly transitioned from the Isles’ worst d-man to being their best, has come into his own as a penalty killer. It was no more evident on Tuesday night against Ottawa late in the game where Pelech was smothering the Sens and blocking shots. And whether he’s been placed with his usual partner, Scott Mayfield — who doesn’t get enough credit for how reliable he’s become — or Johnny Boychuk, Pelech is getting the job done. According to leftwinglock.com, Pelech and Mayfield during the last ten games have been paired on the pk together for 14.1%, while he and Boychuk 7.1%.
The penalty kill has also been a boost because of the return of Casey Cizikas and a healthy Cal Clutterbuck.
Early on, it was clear the Islanders were missing Cizikas badly, especially when down 5-on-4. Cizikas has always been the consummate defender who’s always at the top of the key looking to disturb the flow of the opposition’s power play. When he finally came back against the Arizona Coyotes — the fifth of the ten consecutive wins — Cizikas made his presence felt and it’s felt that way ever since. As for Clutterbuck, it’s so great to see him at full strength. He, just like Cizikas, creates havoc on the penalty kill the best he can. And even in his early-season lull, he’s found his game again and is impacting the play.
We can’t forget the goalies either. The old saying goes that your goaltender has to be your best penalty killer, and that’s exactly what Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov have been during this great run. Greiss has only given up two power-play goals over the last ten games; Varlamov just one.
The Islanders have had all four lines rolling on this tear, and even with all the parts that have been plugged in, it’s been the first line that’s led the charge. They’ve done it too in a huge way with Jordan Eberle still out with a leg injury.
The threesome has combined for 27 points these last ten games.
Starting with Mathew Barzal, he’s been unbelievable. Barzal is 6-4-10 during the Islanders’ streak after only have one point to show for through his first four games. Three of the games during the run, Barzal has put the team on his back. He got the tying goal and game-winning assist against St. Louis, scored two goals in the win in Winnipeg, and he got the party started with a sensational effort against Tampa Bay.
“I’ve got good linemates,” Barzal said after the Isles’ third win in the streak. “I’m trying to feed them a little bit as well. The chemistry has been pretty good.”
Even when he hasn’t recorded a point (the last two games), Barzal has continued to drive the attack for the team. He’s shooting more and is being rewarded. The same can be said about his linemates, Anders Lee and Josh Bailey.
Lee has picked himself up off the deck after a rough start to the year. Before the streak, Lee had tallied just one goal in his first four games. Since then, he’s scored four goals and added four assists during the team’s run. The confidence looks restored for the captain and he’s reverted back to that net-front presence that that tortures the opposition.
Lee practices this!
— IslesBlog (@IslesBlog) November 2, 2019
Bailey, the elder statesmen of the trio, has been a sharpshooter. Currently the team leader in points with 12 and tied with Barzal for the team lead in goals with six, Bailey has made the most of his chances. Already sporting an absurdly-high shooting percentage, Bailey the past ten games is shooting 35.5%. An incredible number for a player who’s always had a pass-first mentality. This string of games though has proven that Bailey is ascending as one of the Isles’ most deadly forwards.
The Islanders are playing their best hockey of the season. A win streak like this doesn’t happen often. And who knows when it will come to an end?
When it does though, whether it’s tonight or sometime in the next week, or maybe when they break the franchise record of 15-straight, the penalty kill and the first line played a crucial role in making it happen.
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