12 August 2010
As the August days creep closer to September, Garth Snow continues to put the finishing touches on what he hopes will be a playoff caliber roster. Finding another top six winger remains on the to-do list. The offseason agenda so far has focused on adding defense and toughness to a young and inexperienced roster. Additions of Mark Eaton and James Wisniewski have bolstered the defense corps, it is another area that, if improved, could bring the Islanders from cellar dweller to contender, and that’s winning face-offs.
The Isles finished twenty fourth out of the thirty teams in face-off percentage last season (at 48.2%), with only one player cracking the top forty, and the was the departed Richard Park (51.5%) at thirty two. Frans Nielsen was the second highest, ironically finishing fifty-first in the league at an even fifty percent. Youngsters such as John Tavares, Josh Bailey and Rob Schremp didn’t even place in the top seventy (Tavares finished 71st with a 47.7%).
Throughout the 2009-2010 season, the Islanders power play depended on the opening face-off. If they won it, they usually were able to set up and generate chances, if they lost the draw, they spent a majority of the time chasing the puck and failing to set up in the offensive zone. On the penalty kill, it was too easy for the opposition to win draws and generate chances of their own, while putting the Isles on their heels. An improvement in the face-off dot would help the Islanders keep chances against them down, putting less pressure on the defense and goaltenders, while giving the offense more chances to put the puck on net. There were many games last season where the Islanders would be outshot by a double-digit margin before the first period had even ended. This was directly related to their inability to win draws in the defensive zone and clear the puck
As a smaller club, it was easy for the opposing teams to out muscle teenagers such as Bailey and Tavares on draws; this should improve as they grown as players and as men. However, if the islanders want to make the jump this season, an emphasis on winning the draw could be the difference between all those one-goal losses and push the islanders into playoff contention.
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