The Islanders Defense is a Problem, Here’s Why

Thomas Greiss has a .887 Save Percentage, that’s bad. Thomas Greiss has a 3.94 GAA, that’s also bad.

Jaroslav Halak has a .910 Save Percentage – hey, that’s not bad! Jaroslav Halak has a 3.20 GAA, why is that so bad?

Much has been made of the Islanders situation in goal, in particular the tandem of Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak. The duo has been criticized throughout the 2017-18 campaign, and when the Islanders show their porous selves, the masses clamor for change with New York’s goaltenders drawing the ire of fans. If anything, play Greiss less and Halak more, because the Islanders current goaltender situation may not be the reason New York is currently sitting outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. A trade for Robin Lehner or Petr Mrazek isn’t going to remedy the Islanders’ goals against problem, because under closer examination, New York boasts a defense that suppresses shots at a rate worse than the blue line of 2016-17’s much maligned Colorado Avalanche – a team that finished an 82 game season with only 48 points.

To demonstrate the Islanders’ utter incompetence on defense this season, I’ve charted out five statistics Corsi Against per 60, Shots Against per 60, Scoring Chances Against per 60, High Danger Chances Against per 60, and Goals Against per 60 –  to look into New York’s rates of suppression or lack thereof among their defensemen. The red line on each of these graphs represents league average, and ideally you want to be below said red line.


Corsi Against, naturally, records the amount of shot attempts against you’re allowing. Per 60 minutes played, Calvin de Haan is the only Islander defenseman who is faring better than league average, and is doing it by the slimmest of margins. What this points to is the Islanders defense across the board failing to deny zone entries and allowing opposing teams to consistently obtain offensive zone possessions that yield shot attempts. This isn’t the be all end all, and this could merely be attributed to scheme if the Islanders are blocking most shot attempts or forcing them wide, which brings me to Shots Against per 60.


Calvin de Haan (hang on to this guy, Isles) and Johnny Boychuk are the only two Islanders who fare better than league average in suppressing shots against, and once again, by the slimmest of margins. This in conjunction with Corsi Against tells you not only are the Islanders consistently allowing zone entries and extending periods of possession against in their own zone, they’re allowing these entires and possessions to turn into consistent shots against on their goal with the exception of two players out of nine that can suppress these shots against at a better than league average rate. Again, it could be a matter of scheme, as some teams prefer to allow more shots from the outside in order to focus on turning away shots of higher danger. That brings us to Scoring Chances Against per 60.


This is very telling. The Islanders defense this season has shown an utter incompetence in suppressing scoring chances against, with not a single player faring better than league average. From what I’ve found, they’re the only team in the league that can boast that fact. If you think your team allows too many scoring chances, odds are you have at least one person in your lineup that’s better than an Islanders defenseman in this metric. This shows us the Islanders allow zone entries and consistent possession, consistently allow successful shots against, and in turn are unsuccessful in turning away scoring chances anywhere near league average. Granted, not all scoring chances are created equal, which is why I’ve also charted out High Danger Chances Against to show the most egregious of defensive lapses. Keep an eye on Dennis Seidenberg.


Oh my, someone come get Dennis. Seidenberg allows approximately 60% more High Danger Chances Against per 60 than the league’s average defenseman, and while his teammates fare quite a bit better, once again the Islanders have zero defenders that suppress the most dangerous of shot attempts against even on par with the NHL’s average defenseman. It’s not just an issue at this point, it’s a chronic condition that a few extra points in save percentage is not going to fix. If the Islanders want to fix their goals against, they need new defensemen or a new coach to teach these guys how to defend, it’s that simple.


This is unsurprising based on what I’ve laid out in this article, except for the fact that Greiss and Halak apparently support Thomas Hickey’s habits. I mentioned at the beginning of this article that the 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche suppressed shots and chances at a better rate than New York’s current blue line, which you can see here:

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I only bring this is up because of how often and how blatantly Colorado’s defense was maligned over the course of last season. The 2016-17 Avalanche had more quality defenders in every metric than the 2017-18 Islanders, except for Goals Against which can actually be attributed to incompetent goaltending in conjunction with meaningful suppression metrics. The thesis of this article is to illustrate the Islanders don’t need a change in goal. No, the Islanders need a drastic overhaul of their defensive roster and structure, or else their potent attack of Tavares, Bailey, Lee, and Barzal is going to be purely wasted.

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