After a rousing power-play success in Nashville on Saturday night, the New York Islanders are all about, “What a difference a day makes.”
Time for a Change
On Saturday night in Nashville, Doug Weight subtly overhauled the New York Islanders lineup. He changed all four lines and restructured his power play. The team had done a decent job at even strength, but it was clear that some of the forwards could use a little change of support.
The power play was a disaster. Maybe the most impressive thing was that the staff was able to implement these changes with only one between games practice on the road.
Isles Line Changes
John Tavares between Anders Anders Lee and Josh Bailey
This was a very successful first line last year. Josh Bailey had a career year in total points with 56. The line should offer a consistent offense generator at 5-on-5.
Matthew Barzal between Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle
It looks like Doug Weight is willing to break up The Killer Bees (Beau-Barzal-Bailey). By doing so, he may have created a very strong 5-on-5 offensive generator and a center-in-training. This line pairs two wings with 20-plus goal potential with a Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) candidate.
I expect that conversation to start soon. Barzal has been outstanding as a playmaking center while providing him two veteran NHL finishers will definitely strengthen his ROY campaign and the Islanders as a whole. It also shifts Nelson from center to left wing. He should find some success there away from the defensive responsibilities of the pivot.
Casey Cizikas between Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera
Finally, a pat on the back to the center of The Best Fourth Line in Hockey. It really was never a fourth line with Cizikas and Clutterbuck, but it certainly not when Kulemin replaced Martin last year. That was a line that could handle middle six minutes with any team in the league. Casey’s wings just got better. Both Ladd and Chimera are veteran 20 goal scorers. I can also see this as being the place where Joshua Ho-sang lands when/if he returns this season.
JT's natural hat trick was the highlight of the #Isles 6-2 win over the Predators in Nashville. ??? #LGI pic.twitter.com/5tLJlzUmTi
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) October 29, 2017
Anthony Beauvillier between Nikolay Kulemin and Cal Clutterbuck
It has been my contention that Beau will be one of the better two-way centers in the league within the next three years. I think of him as a more tenacious Frans Nielsen. He’s progressed well, making his NHL debut four years earlier than the very successful former Islander center. His one key flaw was faceoffs.
Being on a line with Kulemin and Clutterbuck will help that. The two skilled forecheckers should not lose a step with Beauvillier. I see them deployed similarly to how TBFLIH were. I also see Beau joining the regular penalty-killing squad this season.
The Power Play
Doug weight added Ryan Pulock back to the lineup and inserted him as the quarterback of the second power-play unit. They also restructured their failed breakout scheme. The changes yielded fruit immediately: three power-play goals.
Pulock on Point
The roster change was expected. Allowing Ryan Pulock to QB the second unit was expected from his draft day in 2013. Not only does he possess a 100-plus MPH slap shot, he is also a very good skater and puck distributor. The combination of these three attributes is exactly what the Islanders PP needed. He has played three games this season yet has a goal and two assists, all on the PP. The Islanders have four of their five PP goals in those games.
Roller Derby is Dead
Changing the breakout routine may have been even more important than the lineup move. The Islanders had been employing a strategy that would start with speedy defenseman Nick Leddy rushing the puck up the middle, then passively dropping it to one of the more talented forwards. Usually, either John Tavares or Joshua Ho-sang would then take the puck and speed to the nearest gap in the blue line defense.
It resembled a roller derby sling-shot move and was easily defended. Their lack of a solid zone entry plan was probably the most important factor in giving up five shorthanded goals. To my knowledge, it was the only time this team had a negative plus/minus rating with the man advantage over a 10-game span.
The fix was simple. Break it down and start from scratch.
The PP appeared to use a standard zone entry. The Isles’ more capable puck handlers, John Tavares and Mathew Barzal carried the puck to the line. They made their dump or carry decisions based on the defense that was offered. Their possession rate was clearly more successful this way. Hopefully, they will allow this to evolve into a more dynamic system, and add Leddy and Pulock to the zone entry roster. The more options, the harder they will be to defend.
The Isles played a team facing a schedule loss (tail end of back to back games that involve travel while your opponent is rested) in Nashville. So the results are just a small sample size against in a prejudiced situation. But the results were positive by all measures. In theory, they should be a relative success. The forwards targeted in the line shakeup were presumably Eberle, Ladd and Chimera. A minor level of success was achieved just because Eberle had two goals on day 1.
I am going to give this staff a B+ in dealing with adversity through the first 10 games of the season. These changes clearly have the potential to carry a very talented squad to a year of Metro Division success. Stay tuned.