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What’s Wrong With The Islanders’ Defense?

The Islanders have a problem giving up goals, in case you haven’t noticed.  The Islanders have given up the second most goals in the NHL (143), two less goals than the lowly Arizona Coyotes.  They are constantly playing games where they either need to score 5+ goals to win or are getting the doors blown off of them.

Their PK is the second worst in the league at 74.6%, and there is no end in sight for the struggling defense.  Please note this is an article strictly on the Islanders’ DEFENSE, not their goaltending.  I’ve stated a thousand times that without good goaltending you won’t be able to contend for a Stanley Cup, but too many times the goalies have been hung out to dry by the defense this year.  There are plenty of reasons why the Islanders have struggled in their own end, but here are the main ones:

Pinching In Too Often

The number one problem that has plagued the Islanders defense has been the inability for the forwards and D to get back on plays going back the other way.  The cause for that is a turnover by the defensemen when pinching in.  As you’ve seen plenty of times in the past few weeks, this then leads to a 2-on-1, 3-on-1, extra man in the slot, whatever you want to call it.  More often than not with this goaltending it leads to a goal.


The loss of Calvin de Haan has been probably the least talked about thing in Islanders land.  He’s a minute eater, averaging the third most on the team, and there is ZERO defensive depth with him and Johnny Boychuk out.  The Islanders have already had to rely on Dennis Seidenberg now, who has lost a few steps, and now they rely on the services of young Sebastian Aho, a 4th round pick in this year’s draft.  You can’t expect someone coming up from the AHL to become a defensive stud overnight.  It takes time for them to develop, and being thrown into the fire is, I guess, one way to learn your craft.

Soft Play In Own Zone

This is a message for everyone on the team.  They can never get pucks out of their own zone, they are terrible at defending the slot, and they’re constantly getting outworked by the opposition.  I would just like one game where someone other than Scott Mayfield roughs some guys up on the boards.  I would like to see even a period of them doing something other than chasing a player around the defensive zone.  Where did they learn this defense from?  Whenever they do try to get tough, they wind up with a hooking or boarding penalty.  It’s just awful play all around.


At the end of the day, coaching has a lot to do with why the Islanders are struggling so much.  There are a few things in terms of structure that bother me within Doug Weight’s system:

  • The Islanders D is too aggressive in the offensive zone, constantly rotating spots with the forward to pinch in.  Most of the time (as stated before) there’s soft play around the boards and either a turnover or bad bounce leads to an odd-man rush the other way.
  • The Islanders young defensemen (Pulock, Mayfield, Pelech) need to learn not to chase the puckholder for too long and get back in their spot.  Too often you see Pulock trying to push an opposing player out of the zone, get out of position, and then have a pass from behind the net or side of the net go right to the slot for a wide-open shot.
  • The Islanders as a team collapse too early on a neutral zone turnover.  Instead of standing strong and making the other team work to get into the zone they fall back, usually leading to a trailing forward or D-man creating a mini odd-man rush.

Is this team fixable?  Somewhat.  I don’t know if it’s the players just not caring, the structure of Doug Weight’s defense or some combination of both but the Islanders defense is HISTORICALLY bad.  If the Islanders have any shot at the playoffs, they better shore up their back end before it’s too late.  They need to start now before John Tavares even has the chance to leave.

-Chris Passarelli


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