Noah Dobson admits that by the end of last season, a five-on-four opportunity was not met with excitement by the Islanders. By then, beaten down by four months of struggles on the power play, their confidence was sapped — and so too was any chance of recovering some effectiveness.
The problems, by the end, mushroomed into one of the defining numbers of the season: 15.77 percent. It is hard to win hockey games when the power play conversion rate is just 15.77 percent. The number — or whatever variant of it exists over a given period of games — hangs over everyone.
“I think, just as a whole, we just lost our confidence,” Dobson said. “And when that happens, it’s hard. Guys don’t have that, they take that extra second to make a play. Myself included.”
That 15.77 percent hung over the offseason, too, and hangs now over training camp, as the Islanders have started to work on the power play with the preseason hitting its halfway mark. You do not shake 15.77 percent off easily.
How might the Islanders try?
For starters, clean up the basic errors that plagued the Islanders last season — which is to say, enter the zone without issue — and get off shots early and often.
In Saturday’s 5-3 preseason win over the Rangers, the power play looked like a work in progress, as the Islanders went 0-for-2 and seemed disjointed on the man advantage. They did, however, score a goal at five-on-four in each of the first two preseason matches.
The game was otherwise largely positive until the final few minutes, when the Rangers scored twice to create a suddenly competitive finish to the exhibition matchup. This is, case in point, the sort of situation that could have been avoided with a power play goal.
“We can do a little bit better on our entries,” coach Lane Lambert said. “There was some opportunity. But I think tonight we didn’t generate as much as we had in the last couple games.”
Dobson has stayed on the top unit through two days of five-on-four work, joining Mathew Barzal, Bo Horvat, Brock Nelson and Hudson Fasching — who has replaced Anders Lee at the netfront. Lee has gone to the same spot on the second unit — along with Pierre Engvall, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Julien Gauthier and Samuel Bolduc. Oliver Wahlstrom, an obvious candidate for power-play time, has been in a different practice group, since he did not play in the rescheduled Rangers game Saturday.
There have not been major tweaks to the scheme, with assistant coach John MacLean remaining in place. Coach Lane Lambert, though, has been more heavily involved in both special teams units.
“I don’t know if there’s a whole lot of differences, but it’s definitely not gonna be the same,” Brock Nelson told The Post. “We’re hoping for different results. Hoping to go out there and be as aggressive as we can.”
One of the issues last year was the coaching staff’s marriage to the same five players on the top unit, even when they struggled. That already looks a little bit different this time around, with Fasching replacing Lee.
Wahlstrom should be an option there as well, after playing a mainly behind-the-net role on the power play in Wednesday’s preseason game against the Flyers. That is a unique variation on a role that traditionally involves boxing out players, screening the goalie and deflecting pucks — and it comes down to Wahlstrom’s preference compared to the more traditional Lee and Fasching.
“It’s a fun spot, you see the ice. Obviously it opens up a lot of low plays down there for Bo where Barzy can work off it,” Wahlstrom said Wednesday. “Obviously I love getting some greasy goals. It’s fun for me to work on that part of my game, to. It was fun down there for sure.”
Still, they are not reinventing the wheel here. The goal is not to be the Oilers, who converted nearly one of every three power-play opportunities last year. The Islanders know what they are and — just as important — what they are not.
They would be remiss to believe, however, that 15.77 percent is a true representation of their abilities.
“It’s something we’re gonna continue to build,” Dobson said. “It’s definitely been an emphasis we’ve been working on each day. It’s an important part. We need to be a lot better.”
“I thought we had some good looks,” Bo Horvat said postgame. “I think there’s still things we gotta work on. I think our entries are a big thing — they were pressuring pretty hard on the wall. But just gotta get out the kinks and keep getting more comfortable over there. So we’re building on it.”