Matt Martin is still bad and should be the odd man out.

With Josh Bailey and Cal Clutterbuck apparently not badly hurt, the Islanders are soon about to have a fully healthy forward corp for the first time all year.  Even if we ignore Conacher (not likely to get playing time if people are healthy) and Boulton (goon – also injured for now), this leaves 13 forwards for 12 spots – someone suddenly has to sit.  5 games ago, when word of Grabner’s impending return came around, it seemed clear:  Someone in the fourth line would have to sit, probably Martin or Cizikas.

As if sensing this was the case, the fourth line has played inspired hockey in the last 5 games:
4th Line

The #s above show what many have probably noticed: the fourth line has played damn good hockey over the past 5 games and have the best possession numbers of any Islanders line during this stretch.  How can you bench some players playing truly great hockey?

The answer is simple: We have a lot more than five games to go on when making this decision.  I’ve repeatedly mentioned “Bayesian Analysis” on this blog when talking about analyzing players and teams and it comes into play here as well.   Again, “Bayesian Analysis” is simply a complex name for a pretty simple context:  When evaluating the play of players or teams or anything, we don’t simply forget all that came before.  We take new information (our “signal”) and add it to the prior info we have (the “prior”) and adjust our current belief as to that thing by combining the two.  The stronger our “prior” – the larger our sample in this case – the stronger the signal it takes for us to change our belief.

To go back to our fourth line players, well, our signal here is only five games worth of data.  Yeah the fourth line, including Matt Martin and Cizikas has played incredibly well for five games, but we have multiple years of data of Martin and Cizikas besides the data from this year to judge these players on:
Martin

The above is Martin’s 6 year history.  You can see the uptick in this year’s performance pretty clearly – it’s the first time Martin has ever been above 50% in corsi, and it’s driven strongly by this past 2 week’s performance.  And well, for the 280 games prior to this season, Martin has been an awful NHL player, with the team greatly better without him on the ice.  That’s what we call an incredibly strong prior and this year’s performance – and especially the last 5 games’ performance – really isn’t nearly enough evidence to take away from that.  The odds are incredibly unlikely Martin has morphed into a plus possession player, better than either Bailey or Grabner.  And he’s a worse scorer than either of those guys as well.

The same is true of Cizikas to a lesser extent – we only have two seasons worth of prior for him – but CC has the advantage of being a Center, which Martin does not.  Martin being removed makes lineup changes easy -> out Martin, in Bailey or Grabner, voila, keep all the other lines the same.  Even after two weeks of good play, it’s still the right move – odds are if he could keep up this good play for a full season, we’d have seen a player who wasn’t god-awful for a prior season.  We haven’t.

It may be tough to justify taking out a player playing the best hockey of his career, and hell, genuinely some of the best hockey of anyone on the team over the past two weeks.  But it’s clearly the move that makes this team better more than any other.

Neutral Zone Analysis: 2014-2015 Season: Game 23 AT Washington

G23

The #s above are more generous to the Isles than they should be…the Isles had a big deficit in the third period which allowed the Caps to sag off.  That said, the Caps won the neutral zone this game by sheer # of entries – leading by 15 at one point in the 2nd period, even though they didn’t really out-carry the Isles.    The Isles looked really exhausted at times in this game, and for good reason due to the brutal schedule leading up to it.  And the Isles losing Lubo in the 2nd period only made it worse, although those effects weren’t really felt in the neutral zone.

Well, you’re not going to outplay your opponents in every game.

Neutral Zone Analysis: 2014-2015 Season: Game 22 vs Washington

G22

The Isles didn’t quite dominate game 22 like they did game 21, but solidly outplayed a decent Caps team.  Again the Isles continued their trend of carrying in at a high rate, while limiting opposing carry-ins, which started with the game against LA, although Washington is surprisingly not a big carry-in team this year, so some of that is the opponent.

This is the last game in a while the Isles were fully staffed on D, with Boychuk apparently being hurt at some point in this game.

Neutral Zone Analysis: 2014-2015 Season: Game 21 vs Philly

G21

Above are the numbers for game 21 vs the Flyers.  This is an absolutely DOMINANT performance.  The Isles out-entered the Flyers significantly, carried in on 60% of entries, and held the Flyers to a 33% carry-in rate.  You won’t find better neutral zone games than this one, and the Isles outplayed the Flyers in the other zones as well. Incidentally, Jess Schmidt from BroadStreetHockey tracked this game as well and found the Isles’ domination to be slightly larger.

Quite simply put, Mason had an amazing performance in this game, as the Isles annihilated the Flyers in all phases, particularly in the neutral zone, even though the game went into the shootout.

Of note: Thomas Hickey and Calvin de Haan missed this game, and the Isles didn’t miss much of a beat, with Matt Donovan and Brian Strait ably fitting in.  Of course Hickey has had a poor year so far, so we shouldn’t have expected much of a drop off there.

Anders Lee is playing dominant Hockey for the second year in a row.

Anders Lee was a big surprise last year.  Not that he wasn’t an eagerly anticipated prospect for the Isles by much of the fanbase (although the fanbase eagerly anticipates any player whose playing style involves being physical and bruising), but he put up numbers that were those of a pretty dominant player last year.  As I wrote when Lee came up this year:

That’s the stat line of a very plus possession player alongside good linemates, with a great shooting rate and who wasn’t sheltered territorially.  You can see some evidence of his less than great skating in the neutral zone data – where his 37% controlled entry rate is below average for a forward, but his line was such a plus possession line it didn’t matter.  They were only slightly positive in the neutral zone, which may suggest some decline, but the overall numbers are really good and even the neutral zone #s, due to the 51.1% on-ice entry rate, was terrific.
 

In short, in Lee’s 22 games, Lee was:
1st on the Isles in 5 on 5 goals per 60 minutes.
1st on the Isles in 5 on 5 shots on goal per 60 minutes.
the leader amongst Isles forwards in corsi.

Those are pretty awesome numbers and the underlying numbers (Shots on goal, corsi), suggested it wasn’t a fluke. So we were pretty sure he had the talent to be at least a solid or even plus player going forward, even if his pedigree suggested he probably wouldn’t repeat that performance in the next year.

Well it’s only been 18 games, but this year, Lee is:
1st on the Isles in 5 on 5 goals per 60 minutes.
1st on the Isles in 5 on 5 shots on goal per 60 minutes.
Leading Isles forwards in corsi.

Yes, he is DOING IT AGAIN. Now again, this is a small sample size, and again, for the second year in a row, Lee is playing amongst some good forwards – Nielsen and Bailey last year, Strome and Nelson this year. But all those guys have better numbers with Lee than other players, and Lee this year is even getting a good number of defensive zone starts.

The Kid is playing dominant hockey 40 games into his career. Still way too early to anoint him as this great for real, but he should not be sitting any time soon, nor should he be changing his game in any sort of way (although he should not get into fights like he did against Washington – we’d like him to stay on the floor!)

UPDATE: I noted this in my Neutral Zone Data post through 15 games at Lighthouse Hockey that Lee had video game good #s through that point in the season, although it involved only 9 games at that point. I’ve tracked through the Capitals game Friday and the numbers are still comically awesome:

With Lee on the ice, the Isles have:
Made 53.2% of entries;
Made 48% of their entries with control (carry-in or pass-in);
held opponents to controlled entries on only 37.3% of entries.

Those are insanely good numbers in the Neutral zone.

Neutral Zone Analysis: 2014-2015 Season: Game 20 vs Pittsburgh

G20

And here is the neutral zone data for the Isles’ home game against Pitt on 11/22, the second half of the home and home. This time around the Isles DID dominate the neutral zone, as they did dominate the whole game.  A carry-in rate of 59% is amazing, and holding the pens to 43% is great, and of course the Isles out-entered the Pens as well.  John Tavares once again had a ton of carry-ins, ala last year, which is a great sign.

Overall, between the home and home with Pitt, the Isles outplayed the penguins in the neutral zone overall, with a neutral zone fenwick of 51.6%.  Given that the Pens are an elite opponent, that’s a pretty great sign.

Neutral Zone Analysis: 2014-2015 Season: Game 19 AT Pittsburgh

G19

The Isles outplayed the Pens in the first game of this home and home, on the road, as shown by the possession #s (also and by us winning). That said, the victory wasn’t carried by neutral zone play: while the Isles were even in controlled entries with the Pens, they were outentered by Pittsburgh.

Instead, the Isles made the most out of their entries. Again, this isn’t a method of out-possessing the opponent that will work as consistently as simply winning the neutral zone, but the Isles were up nearly the entire game so with score effects, this really doesn’t look that bad. And it was a road game vs an elite Penguins team.  The question is whether the Isles would win the neutral zone in the rematch the next day….