There is no way to sugar-coat just how much the Islanders penalty-killing unit has struggled throughout this season.
Emerging from the Olympic break, the team’s PK was scraping the bottom of the league in efficiency and putting a goal-starved squad at a severe disadvantage almost every night.
Something had to be done.
“You know that old cliché, ‘If it’s not broken don’t fix it?’” veteran Richard Park asked. “It was broken.”
Consequently, Scott Gordon and the rest of the coaching staff decided change was desperately needed. After attempting to tweak the unit three times previously throughout the season, a clear-cut plan was devised.
Responsibilities were defined, the scheme was tailored to the team’s personnel and several video sessions were digested.
Since making the requisite adjustments after the Islanders' 6-3 loss to Atlanta March 4, the team has seen results almost immediately. Heading into last night’s match against the Ducks, the team has killed off 21 of 25 penalties in the past six games, including three straight games (13-for-13) without surrendering a power-play goal.
The team has also scored a pair of shorthanded goals in that span as well.
“It wouldn’t have taken much to get positive results, because we were so bad,” Gordon joked.
While it still may be premature to deem the change a cure-all, there is a definite correlation between improved special teams and the team’s overall success.
“It gives you the confidence. When the game is 3-2 and the other team goes on the power play we know if we do our job, we can kill it off,” defenseman Mark Streit said. “It’s a big confidence-booster and we’ve been battling all season to win games like that.”
The aim of the revamped penalty kill is to scale back the amount of pressure applied to opponents on the outside and increase the team’s presence in the front of the net.
“Defenseman are protecting the net a lot more. If there is a shot we have more bodies to get pucks out and box people out. We’re pretty much giving up the outside and trying to clog the dangerous ice,” Streit said. “We don’t skate around as much anymore and get out of position; there aren’t as many breakdowns.”
The absence of serious size and physicality among the team’s penalty killers—exacerbated by the loss of 6-6 defenseman Andy Sutton earlier this month—also played a role in the adjustments made.
“We changed to allow ourselves to protect the front of the net with more consistency,” Gordon said. “We don’t have a lot of big guys, we don’t have a lot of imposing guys. It seemed like every mistake was in the back of our net. Now, we’ve given ourselves the opportunity to compete with the players we have and they’ve done a good job.”
“It’s not miracle work,” Park said. “but it needed adjusting and the coaching staff did a great job at finding a solution.”
Notes and Quotes: Kyle Okposo missed his second straight game with an undisclosed injury; he remains questionable for tonight’s game against the Kings.