What’s Behind the Islanders 14-Game Hot Streak?

Kevin Schultz, Islanders Point Blank:

The hottest team in the NHL right now is the New York Islanders. They have won 11 of their last 14 games; earning a point in all except one of those outings. During that time, they’ve outscored their opponents 42-25. It’s been a heck of a run and one that seems destined to lead them into the playoffs, as Sports Club Stats has them at 97.3% to make it as of this writing.

On March 24th, prior to their game against Florida, the Islanders were tied for 11th in the Eastern Conference with a 13-15-3 record. Now, they’re 24-16-5 and in sole possession of sixth.

So, what’s been the difference?

Secondary Scoring. The Islanders top line of John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Brad Boyes have 13 of the team’s 42 goals during the streak. That’s only 31% of the team’s total offense. Before the streak they had 37 of 88, which was 42% of the team’s overall total. They’re scoring a smaller percentage of the team’s goals, as the Islanders are getting increased contributions from other lines.

A great example was Saturday night in Winnipeg, when the Islanders scored four non-shootout goals. All of those goals came from the bottom three lines.

The second line. Part of that secondary scoring punch has come from the second line; which has really turned it on in the last month. Josh Bailey has a 6-4-10 line in his last 14 games. In that same time frame, Kyle Okposo has ten points and Frans Nielsen has 12.

Those guys have 32 points combined during the 14-game streak, including ten goals. They had 36 points and ten goals in the prior 31 games.

Lubomir Visnovsky. It really can’t be said enough what Visnovsky has done for this team offensively and defensively. The Islanders have been a completely different team with Visnovsky on the back end.

Visnovsky has allowed Mark Streit to play a reduced role with fewer minutes on the third defensive pairing, making the captain’s miscues a non-factor, and given Streit a power play partner. (For years the Islanders have gone with four forwards on the top power play unit, but not anymore). He’s also created a dynamic defensive duo with Thomas Hickey that is the team’s second defensive pairing, giving the Islanders two excellent pairings. When’s the last time the team could say that?

I mentioned it yesterday, but Visnovsky has the 26th best corsi relative in the NHL and the best on the entire team. If you don’t like fancy stats, then here’s an alternative assessment; he’s got the 17th best +/- in the NHL among defensemen. Paired with Thomas Hickey — another player worthy of praise — the Islanders have had a very solid top two defensive pairings.

Evgeni Nabokov is playing better. The Islanders workhorse in net has played well this season, but has been much, much better lately. The NHL’s average save percentage this season is 912. Here’s how Nabokov’s numbers have progressed throughout the season:

January: .906
February: .895
March: .910
April: .928

There’s a big difference between a team with a netminder who is bordering on a .900 save percentage and one that has a nearly .930 save percentage. It shouldn’t be a surprise then, that the Islanders were 4-6-1 in February and are now 7-0-2 in April. Nabokov hasn’t been the team MVP throughout the year, but there’s a good argument that he’s the team’s second half MVP.

Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic block a ton of shots, and they’re not as unlucky. Earlier in the year, the Isles best defensive pairing was having a tough go of it. Pucks were banking into the net off Hamonic’s chest and the pair was having some struggles. On March 23rd, Hamonic was a -15 and MacDonald was a -14. They’ve both raised their +/- considerably since then; Hamonic now at -6 and MacDonald now at -3.

These guys also block a ton of shots — MacDonald leads the entire NHL in blocks with 119 and Hamonic isn’t far behind with 101. Hamonic is blocking 3.1 shots per game over the streak, with MacDonald at 2.5. Prior to that, they were at 1.4 and 2.05 respectively.