The New York Islanders have been one of the most consistent puck possession teams in a season filled with unstable teams, but to begin the Stanley Cup Playoffs they are facing one of the clubs that has improved a great deal in the final months of the season.
New York spent the entire season inside the top 10 in the League in shot attempt percentage (SAT%). If the season were broken up into three segments (Oct.-Nov., Dec.-Jan., Feb.-April), the Islanders were the only team to place in the top 10 in all three.
That said, the Islanders were 10th from Feb. 1 until the end of the season, according to www.war-on-ice.com, and the Washington Capitals were one of the most improved teams in the NHL near the end of the season. Washington had the second-best SAT% of the eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference after the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline, controlling more than 53 percent of the shot attempts.
The Islanders were a middle-of-the-pack team in this department in the final few weeks of the season, but part of that was because defenseman Nick Leddy missed some games with an injury. Leddy and defenseman Johnny Boychuk were acquired on the same day just before the regular season began and few new additions had such an impact on their team in 2014-15.
They were paired together from the onset of the season, and have been among the League leaders in SAT% all season. Leddy is a fringe Norris Trophy candidate, and would probably be a top contender if coach Jack Capuano didn't spread ice time out as evenly as he does with New York's defense corps.
The Capitals added defenseman Tim Gleason and forward Curtis Glencross before the deadline. Gleason has teamed with Mike Green on Washington's third pairing and Green has played more at even strength since his arrival. Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer have been two of Washington's top possession forwards since the deadline, and having Nicklas Backstrom as their center (coach Barry Trotz split his two stars and put rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov in the middle of Alex Ovechkin's line) seems to have been a boon for them.
This series will feature four of the best offensive forwards in the sport, with two on each side. How much time will John Tavares and Kyle Okposo spend on the ice against Ovechkin and Backstrom though?
The two tandems have been split up at times this season, and each of these coaches like to get their big guns as many offensive zone starts as possible. Tavares is one of the most offensive zone-heavy guys in the NHL. If that trend continues in this series, it will be fascinating to watch which other line the coaches put on the ice to try and combat Tavares and Ovechkin (and Backstrom and Okposo, for that matter).
Each team is deep at forward and is willing to play all four lines a lot. Each team has a top-three center (Frans Nielsen for the Islanders, Eric Fehr for the Capitals) who was dealing with an injury at the end of the regular season.
The Islanders will be trying to reverse which way their play has been trending for the past month or so, while the Capitals will hope to keep their recent form rolling.