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 past four of five years, was there ever a time when we can honestly say the Islanders were a great power play team?
Unfortunately, that answer is no.
It’s kind of mind-bottling with the talent that Garth Snow and Co. have assembled over that time that they couldn’t ever seem to figure out how to fix the power play. And if you go back, that power play not being able to capitalize was the difference in not only key moments during the regular season, but also in the postseason. Don’t believe me? Go back and watch the series with the Penguins from 2013, and the series against the Lightning in 2016.
Speaking of the regular season last year, the Islanders power play ranked 28th overall out of 30 teams. The problems on the man-advantage stemmed from what I believe was at times laziness with the puck, but also the team not having that big-body presence to throw right in front the opposing goalie. Some other aspects that contributed to the teams’ struggles on the power play were certain players looking for the extra pass instead of shooting (being to fancy in hockey terms) and players not getting down low in the dirty areas.
What’s weird is that despite last year, the Isles usually find themselves in the middle of the pack in the league on the man-advantage.
But in all those times they were in the middle, they could never seem to launch themselves in to the upper tier of really good power play units. Was the problem the coaching? The personnel? Strategy? Maybe it was all three. But that’s another conversation for another time.
Taking a look at this coming season, having two power play units that can become consistent is one of the major keys for New York to become a successful team and return to the postseason. The club definitely has all the tools to sustain a better power play. Winger Anders Lee found a home in front of the net last season on the first unit and will most likely be placed there again to make goalies lives miserable. The club still has Johnny Boychuk who will man one of the points and is essential with his booming shot. Newcomer Jordan Eberle will add another element to the Isles power play with his elite passing and savvy moves. Joshua Ho-Sang, just like Eberle, will be another weapon the team can use on the power play with his splendid passing and his brilliant hockey sense.
I think I’m forgetting someone? Oh yeah that other young stud, Ryan Pulock.
Pulock, 22, for several years now has been developing to become the future quarterback on the power play. He showed exactly how powerful a shot he has when he scored in the playoffs two years ago. Pulock has become a more fine-tuned puck-mover as each year has passed. Another plus is he’s a right-handed shot, so if positioned across from other d-man Nick Leddy, the Isles will have a pretty solid lefty-righty duo.
The other detail for why New York will be better on the man-advantage is the addition of Scott Gomez to the coaching staff.
Gomez, 37, is only a few years removed from the game, but he was a power play specialist in his heyday as a part of the Devils Cup-winning teams in the early 2000s and played a part on many teams who were deadly on the man-advantage. His knowledge from an offensive standpoint will do wonders for the guys assigned to the power play. John Tavares, Josh Ho-Sang, Ryan Pulock, etc. will be able to pick Gomez’s brain on what strategies to use, how to make the right decisions and how to find the back of net.
There is only one way left for the New York Islanders power play to go: Up. The teams that are contenders and fight to play for the Stanley Cup all have power play units that can capitalize on their chances. This season, the Islanders need to take that next step.