Puck Possession Could Give the Islanders an Edge

Kevin Schultz, Islanders Point Blank:

Throughout the season, the Penguins have been an excellent team to the tune of tops in the Eastern Conference and the most goals scored in the NHL this season. There’s no doubt that they’re a tough opponent for the Islanders to face in this week’s first round.

However, if there’s one chink in the Pens’ armor, it could be their poor possession numbers over the last month. Since Sidney Crosby has been out with injury — sustained March 30 against the Islanders — the Penguins haven’t controlled possession like they normally do. And not only that, but their deadline acquisitions haven’t helped the cause.

Over at the Sporting News, Kent Wilson outlined exactly what has happened with the Penguins:

In fact, the Penguins sported the second-worst possession rate of any club in the league since April 3 (43.08 percent Corsi), ahead of only the Toronto Maple Leafs (41.92 percent).

Remember: 5-on-5 Corsi Percentage is the ratio of a team’s shot attempts (goals, saved shots, blocked shots, and missed shots) in comparison to its opponents during 5-on-5 play. The higher the rating, the better.

Wilson also notes that with Sidney Crosby, the Penguins controlled possesion at a 56% clip, while without him that number dropped the other way to 46%. Also missing time in April were Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, two of the Pens best players, which probably helped to drive down their possession numbers. But contrary to popular opinion, Wilson says, the Pens deadline acquisitions didn’t help their possession rates. Jarome Iginla’s on-ice corsi close number was positive at 55%, while Jussi Jokinen, Douglas Murray and Brenden Morrow were all south of 46% with Morrow clocking in at a horrible 36%.

Now, all that being said, the Penguins still went 8-4 in April without Crosby and with these decreased possession numbers. Their deadline acquisitions have all been scoring, too. Combined Morrow, Jokinen and Iginla have 36 points in 38 games as Penguins. Even if these players are creating fewer chances and shots, they’re still cashing in on the chances that they do have.

But the interesting thing with all this possession talk is how good the Islanders have been over the same time frame. While the Penguins possession numbers have gotten worse, the Islanders have gotten better.

Over the course of the whole season, the Islanders had the 8th best shot differential in the entire NHL (shot differential factors into these possession numbers), while the Penguins were 13th. That final number was fueled by a run where the Islanders dominated possession over the final 17 games of the year. Over those final 17, the Islanders had a 55.1% corsi, compared to the 43% rate Wilson quoted the Penguins at.

Individually, some of the Isles players have had impressive possession numbers, especially the second line. Josh Bailey clocked in at 53.5%, Frans Nielsen at 54.9% and Kyle Okposo at 55.8%. The team leaders over the last 17 games? Lubomir Visnovsky and Thomas Hickey (63% each).

All of this doesn’t mean squat if a team gets lucky, or can’t finish, or has elite players who can finish. When it comes to the Islanders and Penguins, the Pens elite talent could cancel out these numbers and with Sidney Crosby nearing a return, he can drive the Pens’ possession much like John Tavares does for the Islanders. But nonetheless, it’s an area where the Islanders could have a distinct advantage.