It’s more than just confidence that’s fueling the Islanders’ potent power play.
Tactically, there are reasons for its sustained success this season, starting with Noah Dobson’s improved distribution skills at the blue line.
But don’t discount the effect of the Islanders’ newfound swagger.
“I think our mindset is a lot different this year,” Bo Horvat told Newsday before the Islanders faced the Maple Leafs on Monday night at UBS Arena. “Last year, when we went over the boards for our power play, it was like we didn’t know what was going to happen. Whereas this year, I just feel like every time we step over the boards, we know we’re going to have a chance to score.”
So much so that the Islanders’ 0-for-4 on the man advantage in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Kings was an outlier. It was only the third time in 12 games that the Islanders didn’t score at least one power-play goal.
They were 12-for-35 (34.3%) in that stretch, a better pace than the Devils, who led the NHL on the power play at 32.6% entering Monday’s play.
Last season, the Islanders finished 30th in the 32-team NHL at 15.8%.
“Just the mindset of when we have a power play, we’re attacking,” Dobson said. “There’s definitely more confidence, more of a swagger when we have a power play. That just comes with having success with it.”
Ten of Dobson’s 19 assists entering Monday — he was tied with Mathew Barzal for the team lead in assists — had come on the power play as he quarterbacks the first unit.
Horvat, who had three power-play goals, works between the circles while Barzal, on the left wall, and Brock Nelson, who also had three power-play goals, man the one-timer spots. Kyle Palmieri, who had a team-high four power-play goals, is the net-front presence.
The puck movement has improved significantly — not just on Dobson’s end, but it does start there.
“That’s one of the bigger things is him being able to walk the line and create the open spaces for Barzy and for Nellie,” Horvat said. “His puck movement is even quicker than last year. It’s picking apart other teams.”
“He did a lot of work with that,” coach Lane Lambert said of Dobson’s offseason. “He had some help and spent a lot of time on the ice working on different aspects of his game.”
Dobson has become adept at looking off the defense, making the penalty-killers think he’s passing the puck one way and then going back the other way. Once a defense starts moving side to side, it becomes very susceptible to backdoor goals or goals off rebounds.
“Something I really tried to work on is being deceptive with it, not telegraphing where I’m going,” Dobson said. “Just putting a premium on the execution. One bad pass gives the killers a chance to pressure.”
While the first unit’s personnel essentially has remained steady all season, the second unit has had more of a rotating cast. Injuries to defensemen Sebastian Aho, who had been the quarterback, and Ryan Pulock, whose hard shot was used along the left wall, again have forced Lambert to make alterations.
Defenseman Mike Reilly has stepped into Aho’s spot. Anders Lee, who had two power-play goals, remains the net-front presence. Pierre Engvall has played on both walls. During Monday’s morning skate, Lambert tinkered with moving Jean-Gabriel Pageau from between the circles to the right wall and putting Hudson Fasching in Pageau’s former bumper spot.
“Fasching has played in that situation before in the minors,” Lambert said. “He’s familiar with the bumper spot.”