New York Hockey: Nathan Lawson

Isles facing shots (shots, shots, shots!)

January, 14, 2011
If the DJ out at Nassau Coliseum is looking for a fitting soundtrack to Isles games, he should consider cuing up Lil John and LMFAO.

Over their past 14 games, the Islanders have given up an average of 38.9 shots per contest, allowing over 40 in five of their last nine. Considering the league-high for shots-allowed average since the lockout has only once topped 35 for a season, that’s a pretty astounding volume the Isles’ netminders are facing.

Remarkably, Jack Capuano’s group is still 8-4-2 in those same 14 games, which is a massive testament to the team’s goaltenders. But Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators, Nathan Lawson and Kevin Poulin couldn’t withstand the barrage, yielding six goals through two periods and ultimately falling 6-4.

Though their goalies have often successfully faced those firing squads, this is a trend the Islanders need to solve. Two factors make this particularly important: 1.) The goalie that carried the Isles to four of those eight wins, Dwayne Roloson, now plays for the Tampa Bay Lightning. 2.) This is no way to build the confidence of kids the team sees anchoring the crease in years to come.

Through their first 42 games, New York has faced an average of 32.8 shots per game. That’s not good, but it’s not atrocious either. But if the Islanders continue to average 39 shots against for the remainder of the season they’d finish the year with a shots-against average of 35.8. That would be the highest season average for any NHL team since at least 1997-98 (which is earliest season I could find team stats on The next closest would be the 35.5 endured by the 2000-01 Atlanta Thrashers, the franchise’s third season in the league.

Are these statistics surprising given a young defense corps that lost its top member to injury (Mark Streit) and had its second-best traded away (James Wisniewski)? Probably not. And are these numbers just a short-term spike as the team adjusts to the absence of Wisniewski and Roloson? Possibly. Is this a small sample size? Absolutely. But it's a trend that seems to be heading in the wrong direction. In those last 14 games, all but one opponent (Edmonton) exceeded their average shots per game when they played the Islanders, so it's not just one or two fluky games.

Now, this isn’t meant to kick the Islanders when they’re down. Rather, I think it’s pretty darn notable that the team has been able to weather this kind of peppering and win eight times.

On the other hand, I sincerely doubt this is a trend the Isles are happy with and they will want to turn around forthwith. Something to keep an eye on in the days ahead.

Hawks show Isles' streak was suspect

January, 10, 2011
The Islanders lost 5-0 to the Chicago Blackhawks Sunday night. Normally a lopsided beating by the reining Stanley Cup champs wouldn’t register as unusual, but given the Islanders’ 8-2-1 record coming into that game it sure seemed to be a hasty reversal of fortune.

But after breaking down that hot streak a little bit, the one-sided Sunday loss may not be that strange at all.

Over the course of the Islanders’ streak they dialed up goal scoring and seriously cracked down on the opposition. In the Isles’ first 28 games, they averaged a mere 2.1 goals per game, while yielding 3.43. Simply put, that’s pretty wretched and given these figures it was no shock to see the Islanders dueling with the New Jersey Devils for occupancy of the NHL cellar.

Then something sensational happened and the Islanders seemingly blossomed. During the last 11 games heading into Chicago, the Isles upped their goals per game average to 3.01 while cutting goals against to 2.36 per contest. You don’t need to be a genius to see how those two drastic changes in the scoring department could lead to an 8-2-1 hot streak.

Another encouraging sign: The Isles’ core of young talent was leading the way during the streak. John Tavares was averaging better than a point per game (six goals, eight assists) heading into ChiTown. D Andrew MacDonald smoothly transitioned to his role on the top defensive pairing by posting 10 assists. Josh Bailey potted three goals and three assists after being recalled from the AHL and five goals and four helpers from Blake Comeau were notable as well.

The Isles were especially clicking on the power play. New York averaged 1.1 goals per game with the man advantage over the previous 11 games, half a goal better than their season average through the season’s first 28 games. A man down, the Isles improved their PK percentage by 6.4 percent during the streak.

Those are all reasons for optimism as this young club continues to develop. But there are a few signs that seem to indicate the Islanders are about to come back to Earth.

By looking a little closer at special teams we start to see why the previous 11 games may have been a skewed sample. The Islanders may have outscored their opponents 34-26 over that stretch, but if you look only at even-strength performance, usually one of the best predictors of future success, the Islanders were just better than even (22 goals for, 21 against). That’s not a bad mark at all, but it’s not one that indicates the Islanders can keep playing .800 hockey.

The real discouraging mark comes in the shot department. Despite their success, the Islanders were outshot 409 to 293 during the hot stretch. That’s an awful lot of reliance on the goaltending trio of Rick DiPietro, Nathan Lawson and Kevin Poulin.

On average, NHL teams score on about nine percent of their shots. The Islander opponents converted just six percent. Had those foes clicked at the NHL average rate they would have potted 36 goals in the previous 11 games, two more than the Islanders, who enjoyed a shooting percentage of 11.6 percent. If you believe in regression to the mean, it looks like the Isles have just been enjoying a stretch of good luck that coincided with some timely breakouts by their young stars.

For the previous 11 games, the Islanders seemed to be on fire. Turns out the may have just been playing with it. Sunday in Chicago they got burned. The young core is a solid one and lately demonstrated their vast potential. But if the Isles can’t crack down on their opponents’ shot totals, they're more than likely going to get burned again.

Isles turning the streak around

January, 4, 2011
The Islanders are red hot and show no signs of cooling down despite dealing away their top defenseman in terms of ice time, as well as their No. 1 goalie this season.

After dispatching the Calgary Flames, winners of four straight themselves, the Islanders are now 7-1-1 since Dec. 16 and have jumped 15 points in the standings. Had they not needed to dig themselves out of a bottomless pit after a disastrous November, we could actually be using the term “playoffs” in conversations about the Islanders right now, but instead they remain 15 points back of Montreal and the No. 8 seed in the East.

But the Islanders story isn’t about the playoffs right now so much as positioning themselves for seasons to come. To that end, the play of goalie Nathan Lawson in relief of an injured Rick DiPietro (time of absence TBD) has to be encouraging, as must be the play of young Calvin de Haan on the Canadian junior team that smacked around the U.S. squad Monday night.

But the centerpiece of any Islander future is John Tavares, who has torched opponents during this recent run to the tune of 13 points in the nine games. That’s the kind of pace most believed him to be capable of when the Isles picked him at the top of the 2009 draft.

The Islanders will try and continue their success Thursday in Edmonton, before swinging into Colorado and finally Chicago before returning home to Long Island Jan. 11.

W2W4: Islanders vs. Devils

December, 23, 2010
The Isles and Devils clash for the second time this season, with the loser taking sole possession of the NHL basement. It's hard to believe both of these teams are in the cellar at this point in the season, but one of them will have chance to stay out of it for the holidays with two points Thursday night. Here are four factors to watch for when the puck drops in Newark.

Bailey's Back

The Islanders finally recalled Josh Bailey from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers after his surprise demotion in November. Not surprisingly, the prime prospect produced in bunches during his AHL stint, racking up 17 points in 11 games. He had struggled badly, failing to record a point in 13 straight games before being sent down. In his first game back with the big club on Wednesday he put two shots on goal in just under 18 minutes of ice time. We'll see if he can get that elusive point Thursday.

You Don't Score, Until You Score

The Devils went goalless in their first meeting with the Isles, a 2-0 loss Nov. 26. In that contest Rick DiPietro turned aside all New Jersey shooters, but the Islander netminder is currently sidelined with swelling in his knee. Dwayne Roloson picked up the win Wednesday night against Tampa Bay, so it will be interesting to see if the Isles roll with Roloson two nights in a row or if they turn to Nathan Lawson, who tended the nets in Saturday's shootout loss to Phoenix.

First One to One Wins?

The Devils and the Islanders represent the two lowest scoring teams in the NHL, so expect a pitchers duel Thursday night. New Jersey has gone three straight games with just a single goal to their credit and have failed to light the lamp more than once in six of their last nine games.

No, Seriously, First One to One Might Win

As you would expect from the two lowest scoring teams in the league, neither squad particularly excels at mounting a comeback. The Devils have a winning percentage of just .105 percent when trailing after the first period. The Isles? They're even worse at .053 percent. The moral of this statistical story? Come out quickly, because the first 20 minutes will dictate a lot about this game.