It’s been just two games, yet here we are. There is already panic in the streets! Dogs and cats living together! Total pandemonium!
No. It is NOT the time to panic. But it IS time to have a serious discussion on some key items that many seemed to sweep under the rug.
BUT FIRST…let’s go to my 2 game observation:
- Zdeno Chara looks and plays old
2. Andy Greene cannot play without a puck-moving dman
3. Noah Dobson is not ready to be a top 4 against better competition
4. Ilya Sorokin doesn’t look great
REALITY: The defense showing big weaknesses with Nick Leddy’s absence
These are significant items IF they persist. But before we go into the defensive mess, let’s address the elephant in the room….
Isles Not The Same Without Varlamov
Varlamov is 33 years old. His age, overall health, and the overall lack of goalie depth magnify the defensive issues. Especially when Sorokin is playing poorly and doesn’t look steady thus far.
The Trotz system depends on a goalie linchpin playing above-average goaltending on a consistent basis. This makes Varly’s role and health paramount.
Due to Varly’s health items, the Isles’s 3rd goalie becomes a potential issue.
- Sorokin hasn’t shown a consistent level as a 1B
- Schneider has shown nothing in his time here.
A big injury to Varly would CREATE an immediate need for a 1B behind Sorokin. Sorokin has had hot runs and flashes of brilliance, but also inconsistency in long-term use. I still DO NOT like his weakness on PK when it gets hot in high danger scoring chances.
Due to this: if Varly was to go down long term… there would be trouble.
However… it is also a solvable issue (even if less than ideal).
My TOP SHELF HockeyCast compadres went into this in our first podcast. Where the Isles could land an impending free agent like Thomas Griess, who is a true 1B goalie and capable of producing on the NHL level to run in tandem to Sorokin. Also creates a healthy competition between the two for starts.
Or another goalie can be gotten to fill that role.
There is also the likelihood that Varly gets and stays healthy, and provides a better level of goaltending to offset the defensive learning curves and growth needed for the team defensively as the season goes on. But if anyone truly confident he will stay that way?
NOW LET’S LOOK AT THE NY ISLANDERS DEFENSIVE REALITY
Despite naysayers, Nick Leddy meant more to this team than people think.
While moving Leddy was necessary due to the expansion draft and opened up more long-term cap room, he was not replaced. Puck movement isn’t just about offense. It is a key defensive item, as well.
There have been multiple pieces on Nick Leddy’s offensive attributes on first assists, overall assists, and on zone entry. Yes, he was never a Power Play Quarterback or a great play driver. But he was a key offensive player for this team.
Defensively, he was flawed. However, I have seen multiple places that basically dismissed his puck movement on the defensive side of play, especially zone exits. This is due to a lot of data cherry-picking to support pre-existing beliefs and biases.
What is MISSING is understanding the level of competition that Leddy faced. Too many point to Dobson’s excellent analytics within the very sheltered play. There is also a lack of understanding of how Leddy was a complimentary player and key to other defensive setups.
If we really look at the data for last year we learn two things right off the bat:
- Greene needed Dobson
- Mayfield needed Leddy.
Nick Leddy was not great in his own zone… but was EFFECTIVE in getting the puck out of the zone, and this, in turn, helped Mayfield. Now? Mayfield and Greene have NOBODY to move the puck. It’s a terrible pairing.
We see also see Zdeno Chara slow and looking his age, with Dobson now facing tougher minutes.
Two pairs of trouble. So you take this defensive issue and pairings, add Sorokin being shaky, and then add two powerful opponents and we see exactly why these two past games are complete messes.
So we can all panic now, right?
There are solutions and the season is a process and marathon. Too many fans and even bloggers look at it in a “freeze-frame” and make it panic-time.
First, let’s acknowledge that Lou Lamoriello made a big bet.
In his moves this past summer, he has freed up cap in the long term that will aid the cup contention window to be expanded. But in moving Leddy and NOT addressing the position/role in free agency or trade, he has made that bet even BIGGER.
The results have led to a shake-up and we are seeing these ramifications early.
But IT IS EARLY. There is time to address this.
The NY Islanders MUST get in their key kids into the mix with Sebastian Aho and Robin Salo. Aho has been pointed to for a while as being an NHL-capable solution, had a strong camp. Both prospects show that there are still some jewels in the Isles system (from the previous GM, no less) that can fill a void. Another potential benefit is possibly in Golyshev if he finds a way in on offense.
OR, Lou will be forced to deal more futures to pay for a solution via trade. Something that hurts the long term, but fills the needs now.
So, this is potentially a solvable item and there is a bit of time before panicking over it.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
What should REALLY be done to solve the defensive issues is that Aho needs to replace Chara in the lineup, and then be paired with Mayfield. Dobson should go back to playing Greene.
BUT, that won’t happen. At least not yet. We will see Chara/Dobson go for even longer.
WHAT TO EXPECT:
Aho to replace Greene, which is still an improvement. Expect this very soon.
10 GAME INCREMENTS IS THE BEST WAY TO LOOK AT THINGS
At the 10 game mark, we can revisit and hope that the 1st two games are a distant memory.
It takes about 15-20 games for a team to really hit a stride in the season. The Isles opening Belmont is a good incentive and bump. For now… we might see a bit of a seesaw until they gain some momentum. Aho might be the key. Varly’s health and easing-in is the backbone.
So is there cause for alarm? No. Just some startling results and concerns. We will watch them make the adjustments.
I expect a shaky first 10. A better second group of 10 games. A steady rise in the next 10-game set after that (21-30). But the season’s midway point, we have to be at a high rate of play. OR some major trade or trades will need to happen.
If they are off on this pace, then in 31-40 you will see the Isles scouting the league for solutions. If there are reports of a lot of isles scouts at games before the 30th game then you know the Isles are now panicking.
Data analytics for this piece
Source: Corey Sznajder
All Three Zones Project
Source: Woodguy and GMoney at @PuckIQ