New York Islanders fans expected to miss Frans Nielsen in a lot of different areas this season. The lifelong Islander prior to this summer was a jack-of-all-trades and contributed to so many different aspects of the game.
But the power play was probably not the place they expected to miss him the most. Through eight games in 2016-17, that’s exactly where his departure has left the biggest hole.
Although the Islanders weren’t a great power play team last season, they were adequate, scoring at a 18.3 percent rate. That was ranked 17th in the NHL.
Early on this season, New York has just a 13.0 power-play percentage, which is 23rd in the league. The Islanders have scored a goal on the man advantage in each of the last two games, but it took six opportunities to notch one Thursday against the Penguins, and in the last six games, New York is 2-for-18 (11.1 percent) on the power play.
Nielsen’s role on the top man advantage unit for the Islanders was the puck carrier. His smooth skating made him a natural with the puck on his stick, particularly on the power play. With his ability, everyone else would set up in their usual comfortable positions.
Coach Jack Capuano has yet to find his power play’s new puck carrier. Various players have tried that spot but ultimately failed miserably.
However, the puck carrier is hardly the only issue.
Capuano’s go-to top power-play line has been forwards John Tavares, Josh Bailey, Ryan Strome and Andrew Ladd with defenseman Nick Leddy at the point. Those forwards have been his choice 45.1 percent of the time while up a man. Brock Nelson has also seen time with the top unit and has two power-play assists. Tavares, Strome and Shane Prince have the three man-advantage goals.
Ladd has mostly been the power play’s net-front presence, but that role would probably be better suited for Anders Lee. Ladd has seen a couple chances in the crease slip through his fingers on the man advantage.
According to the team roster, Lee has two inches and 25 pounds on Ladd, so his bigger body is a better choice in front of the net. That would allow Ladd to move to the half wall.
No matter where Ladd goes, though, he has to improve his play. He has just one assist and is averaging a little more than two shots on goal per game despite receiving the third-most ice time among Islanders forwards.
It might also be beneficial to move defenseman Johnny Boychuk back on the top unit to replace Leddy. Make no mistake, Leddy was the superior offensive option on the blue line by the end of last season, but he is struggling to get pucks to the net early this season. Meanwhile, Boychuk is second only to Tavares on the team with 26 shots on goal. Tavares is also the only Islanders skater with more goals than Boychuk.
His powerful slap shot from the point could be exactly what this team needs on the power play, especially if Lee is inserted in front of the net to clean up whatever the opposing goaltender is capable of stopping but not freezing from Boychuk.
Coaches obviously don’t want to overreact so early in this season. There are still 74 regular season games to go, but there should be a growing concern with the lack of success on the Islanders’ power play through the first month of 2016-17.
The good news is, at the moment, the lack of power play isn’t costing the team a terrible amount of wins. New York is actually 0-3-0 when they score on the man advantage and 3-2-0 when they don’t.
But if things don’t improve over the next week or two, Capuano can’t afford to keep the status quo. Nielsen isn’t coming back, so some other adjustments will need to be made in order to jumpstart the Islanders power play.