New York Islanders

Don’t point to the goal scoring as the issue for the New York Islanders recent struggles, it’s the defense that’s really at fault here.

New York Islanders (8-5-3, 19 pts)
Los Angeles Kings (9-6, 18 pts)
Thursday, 10:30 PM on FSW, MSG
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California

By Justin Weiss

Despite what their record may suggest, the New York Islanders have struggled a bit to open up the 2015-16 season. While the offense may have been on hiatus over the past couple of weeks, a striking difference between this season’s team and lasts has been the play of the defense, starting with the top pair and stemming to the third.

Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk – who were both integral parts of the team’s success in 2014-15 – haven’t performed up to par. Brian Strait and Marek Židlický – the senior members of the Isles’ blueline – have both struggled immensely from the get go. Lastly, Calvin de Haan has suffered from injuries over the years, but has never struggled like this.

Puck Possession
RankDefensemanCorsi For PercentageCorsi Relative to Teammates
1Travis Hamonic51.3%2.5%
2Calvin de Haan50.1%0.4%
3Marek Židlický49.9%1.1%
4Nick Leddy48.1%-1.0%
5Johnny Boychuk47.5%-2.0%
6Brian Strait45.9%-4.4%

(All stats as of November 11, 2015)

In 2014-15, the Isles boasted average goaltending, but were helped out by the strong play of their defensemen on both ends of the ice. This was attributed in part to a strong possession game that featured first liners Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy both over the 55% Corsi For threshold.

This season, it’s been quite the opposite. Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan – the team’s second pairing – have been the only source of positive possession numbers. It may be hard to believe, but Brian Strait’s Corsi has actually decreased from his horrific campaign a year ago.

This has contributed to the drastic shift in shots per game from last season to this. In 2015-16, the Isles have been out-shot more times through 16 games than they were in all of last year’s regular season. Similarly, they have accumulated less shots on goal to start the season than they are allowing each game.

Offense
RankDefensemanSAT Rel%Points Per Game
1Travis Hamonic3.3%.188
2Thomas Hickey15.1%.272
3Calvin de Haan1.4%.185
4Marek Židlický-0.3%.333
5Brian Strait-4.8%.135
6Johnny Boychuk-2.7%.500

An integral part of the Isles’ success in 2014-15 was the contribution of offensive minded defensemen such as Calvin de Haan, Johnny Boychuk and Lubomir Visnovsky. The power play was bolstered by the blistering slapshots of Boychuk and Visnovsky, while Travis Hamonic, Leddy and deHaan all had nice feeds from the point.

Visnovsky is no longer in the National Hockey League, and his replacement, Zidlicky, hasn’t exactly been as big of a force on the PP. Neither has Boychuk been – but not because of his play, as he is on the bench for a majority of the team’s man advantage opportunities. The Isles seem to believe that he will only weaken a very inconsistent power play.

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But the most striking difference between their last two campaigns is the point per game totals. Nick Leddy was at a .474 rate last season, but has regressed through 16 games in 2015-16. Travis Hamonic’s total has decreased by nearly 300 points, while the blueline is on pace to tally roughly 50 less points than they did last season.

If New York wants to contend in 2015-16, it’s imperative that the defense performs to their potential.

All stats via War-on-Ice, nhl.com, Hockey Analysis, and ESPN.

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Justin Weiss is a staff editor at Elite Sports New York, where he covers the New York Islanders and Brooklyn Cyclones. In 2016, he received a Quill Award for Freelance Journalism. He has written for the Long Island Herald, FanSided and YardBarker.