UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano is constantly harping on his players to have a shoot-first mentality. There is plenty of evidence the Islanders have bought in.
The Islanders have outshot their opponent in 14 consecutive games by a combined 495-322, an average of 35.3 shots on goal per game and 23.0 against. They are plus-222 in total shot attempts in that stretch (893-671), averaging 63.7 attempts for versus 47.9 attempts against.
Considering the shot differential, it's not surprising the Islanders are 10-3-1 in their past 14 games, and have catapulted into first place in the Eastern Conference with 59 points heading into their game Friday against the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins (58 points) at Nassau Coliseum.
Overall, the Islanders are second in shots on goal per game (32.9) and tied for first in shots against (26.9) this season. They have the best shot differential in the NHL (plus-260) and have outshot the opponent in 31 of 43 games. They are tied for sixth in the League with 128 goals.
"I think that's, quite frankly at this point, part of our identity," defenseman Travis Hamonic said of the Islanders shoot-first mentality. "That's the way it's turning into be. It's not just throwing pucks on the net from anywhere, but it's throwing pucks on the net when you have a guy driving. Maybe you hit something. Maybe a guy goes in backdoor.
Center - NYI
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 20 | PTS: 39
SOG: 128 | +/-: -3
"As a defenseman, when you have shots coming from all over the ice you have to reposition yourself and that's something not a lot of people realize. Once the shot comes the opposing forwards are going to push off you and try to find the puck, and at that point you're stuck battling. It makes it a lot harder than the average person would realize. Just throwing a [low-percentage] shot on net can change the game."
Captain John Tavares said the biggest key to the Islanders shot differential (they are plus-338 for the season, 2,577-2,239) is how they first defend against opposing shots, particularly with blocks.
The Islanders are sixth in the NHL in blocked shots (676); they block 30.1 percent of the total shot attempts against.
The blocked shots are an indication the Islanders are good at limiting second and third opportunities around the net. That allows them to go on the attack quicker, particularly with a group of defensemen, including Hamonic, Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy and Calvin de Haan, who are good at moving the puck up the ice.
"We build a good structure where it's hard to get through," Tavares said. "You're not trying to get through one guy or one layer, there is a security blanket and everybody is executing their role in the defensive zone, which makes it much harder for the other team to keep trying to create chances or second and third opportunities. With the 'D' we have, the way we're able to come out of our own end and escape pressure, we get out of playing in our own end much better than we have in the past. That has made a big difference."
Once the Islanders get out of their own end, they have been successful at maintaining possession by rolling four lines and having their defensemen jump into the attack.
The Islanders are fourth in the NHL in Corsi-for in all situations (53.5 percent, according to War-on-ice.com). Tavares is fourth among centers with 450 offensive zone starts, largely because the other lines have been able to generate pressure, sustain it and get shot attempts off of it.
"It's the execution and we're able to build momentum line after line," Tavares said. "You see the confidence grow that way. Usually when you're playing well in the 'D' zone that leads to good success through the rest of the ice and you're able to play fast."
That fast play has allowed them to have the puck more, which fuels Capuano's shoot-first mentality.
"Sometimes you can tend to be a little cute, but I think you realize when you want the highlights from around the League and you see the goals that go in a lot of it is from just putting pucks to the net," Islanders forward Josh Bailey said. "Sometimes you want to be a creative player and make your plays, which they have no problem with, but some of the goals that go in, it starts with a shot-first mentality."