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Behind The Numbers

Islanders power play, puck possession must improve, numbers suggest

Factors could cause concern as season progresses despite stellar play of Greiss, Varlamov

by Rob Reese @NHLReese / Fantasy Editor goes behind the numbers to break down one of the hottest teams in the NHL, the New York Islanders, who have won 10 straight games. Advanced statistics are examined to see where the Islanders are having success and to identify a potential weakness to address in order to maintain their winning ways.

The Islanders will take a 10-game winning streak into their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Barclays Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, MSG+, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV). It's the second-longest winning streak in Islanders history; they reeled off 15 consecutive victories from Jan. 21-Feb. 20, 1982. Despite starting 1-3-0, they are second in the Metropolitan Division, three points behind the first-place Washington Capitals. 

But why have they been so successful? It starts in goal with Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov, who have combined for the highest 5-on-5 save percentage in the NHL through 14 games (.941).

Video: OTT@NYI: Greiss shuts down Ennis in tight

It's a trend that has carried over from last season, when Greiss and Robin Lehner, now with the Chicago Blackhawks, finished first with a .935 save percentage in the same situation. 

It's no coincidence Varlamov, who left the Colorado Avalanche to sign a four-year contract with New York on July 1, is flourishing this season under the guidance of Islanders director of goaltending Mitch Korn and goaltending coach Piero Greco. Each was instrumental in getting the best out of Lehner, who finished fourth in the NHL in even-strength save percentage last season (.934; minimum 35 games).

Among goalies who have played a minimum of seven games this season, Varlamov, a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2013-14, is tied for fourth in even-strength save percentage at .940 with Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets. Last season with the Avalanche, Varlamov was tied for 35th with a .916 even-strength save percentage in 49 games.

Greiss, who ranked second last season to Ben Bishop of the Dallas Stars (.938) with a .937 even-strength save percentage in 43 games, is third among goalies who have played at least seven games at .941.

When combined and added in play at all strengths, the Islanders have the best team save percentage in the NHL (.933), which is notable considering the goalies have shared almost a 50-50 workload this season.

Another reason for the hot start is the Islanders power play, which has improved this season. Through 14 games, the Islanders have a power-play percentage of 20.8 percent, tied for 12th in the NHL. They finished 29th last season (14.5 percent).  

That's the good news, but despite the streak, there are some numbers that hint at trouble down the road. 

Five players (centers Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson and Mathew Barzal, and defensemen Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk) are tied for the Islanders lead in power-play goals with one each. The only other team in the NHL with a team high of one with the man-advantage (by seven players) is the Dallas Stars, who are 25th in power-play percentage (13.2) .

Video: NYI@WPG: Barzal blasts one-timer on power play

When it comes to scoring, the Islanders are averaging 3.07 goals per game, which ranks 14th in the NHL. 

There is also cause for concern when it comes to puck possession. The Islanders rank second to last in 5-on-5 shot attempts differential (minus-114), which means their opponents are out-attempting them severely in shots (on goal, missed or blocked). To emphasize how important this statistic is, nine out of the top 10 teams in SAT differential made the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, including the Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues, who were 10th at plus-216. 

This is nothing new for the Islanders, who struggled with shot attempts last season when they finished 26th with a minus-319 SAT rating. It's well known that coach Barry Trotz prefers to play a more defensive system, but it does raise the question of how long New York can keep winning when getting out-attempted at 5-on-5. The Islanders seem to have defied the underlying statistics last season and are in line to do it again this season. But they need to generate more shot attempts to take the pressure off their goalies.

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