Stunning numbers: Islanders’ 10-game winning streak edition

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During the 2019-20 NHL season we will take an occasional look at some stunning numbers from around the league. Today we take a look at some stunning numbers on the New York Islanders’ 10-game winning streak.

No one can stay ahead of them. Here is a weird one. During the current streak the Islanders have spent just 95 minutes trailing on the scoreboard, by far the lowest total in the NHL over that stretch (the next closest team is Boston, having spent 120 minutes playing from behind since Oct. 12). That is kind of what you might expect from a team that has won 10 games in a row, always playing with the lead. So what’s wild about that? They have given up the first goal in six of the 10 games, including their most recent win on Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators. They have fallen behind early more often than not and then immediately erased the deficit before locking down the rest of the game.

Everybody is contributing to the offense. They have scored 34 goals during the 10 games, one of their best offensive stretches over the past two years, and it is a total team-wide contribution. They have received at least one goal from 15 different players, at least two goals from seven different players, and at least four goals from four different players (Mathew Barzal, Derick Brassard, Josh Bailey, and Anders Lee).

Nine different players have been credited with a game-winning goal.

They are not getting the benefit of any power play time. Almost all of that offense has been generated during 5-on-5 play with only three of those 34 goals coming on the power play. And it’s not necessarily because the power play has struggled. It’s because they are not getting any power plays. At all. They have been on the power play just 15 times over the past 10 games (for a total of 24 minutes) which is by far the lowest total in the league during that stretch.

The fewest power play opportunities per game since Oct. 12:

  • Florida Panthers: 2.6 per game
  • Tampa Bay Lightning: 2.6 per game
  • Anaheim Ducks: 2.6 per game
  • Edmonton Oilers: 2.5 per game
  • Pittsburgh Penguins: 2.3 per game
  • New York Islanders: 1.5 per game

The penalty kill has been nearly perfect. While they are not getting the benefit of many power plays, they have only been shorthanded 30 times, allowing just one goal and actually scoring a shorthanded goal. Their penalty kill goal differential is, quite literally, 0 over the past 10 games.

The goalies have been identical. How identical? Check out the numbers during the streak.

  • Thomas Greiss: Five games played, 154 shots against, 145 saves, .942 save percentage, 5-0-0 record
  • Semyon Varlamov: Five games played, 151 shots against, 143 saves, .947 save percentage, 5-0-0 record

You are going to win a lot of games when you get that from two different goalies.

About the shot attempts against. Islanders fans are probably sick of hearing this, but one of the biggest reasons people are always waiting for the bottom to fall out on this team is the simple fact they give up a lot of shot attempts and don’t generate a lot of their own. This is usually bad and there is plenty of evidence to back that up. Last year only two of the bottom-11 teams in the league in shot attempt differential made the playoffs. The year before only three of the bottom 12 teams made it. The year before that only two of the bottom-10 made it. Those teams generally don’t do well, and the ones that do always seem to think they are the ones that stumbled upon the key to “keeping pucks to the outside.” Then almost all of them regress the following year and end up missing the playoffs. The more time you spend defending, the more chances you give up, the more goals you give up. It’s not hard to figure that out.

The Islanders are doing it again, and especially during this streak.

Over the past 10 games they have been one of the league’s worst teams at allowing shot attempts, which seems bad. The thing is, they have been one of the rare teams that might actually be doing a good job of limiting chances. While they give up a lot of attempts, they don’t allow many to actually get to the net. They have also been one of the best teams at limiting high-danger chances over the past 10 games (only 9.38 per game, eighth lowest in the league).

(All data via Natural Stat Trick)

Winning streaks like this usually mean playoffs. And by usually, I mean every time with only two exceptions. The 2016-17 Philadelphia Flyers and 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres are the only teams in NHL history to have a winning streak of at least 10 games during a season and actually miss the playoffs. So you have to like that if you are an Islanders fan.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

Rasmus Sandin
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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

marc-andre fleury
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.