There’s not much going right for the New York Islanders. They have lost six straight games — 10 of their last 11 — and find themselves six points out of the second wild card spot with just two games left to salvage before the All-Star break.
The problems are many, and the solutions are slim to none.
“There’s an energy aspect. There’s a mentality. There’s a balance,” captain Anders Lee told NYI Hockey Now. “It’s a combination of a lot of little things, and you can’t sit there and solve it. You got to be able to show up and be ready to go.”
Anders Lee offered some more clarity, explaining that the team can still envision the light at the end of the tunnel.
“In that sense, it’s more of a sense of positivity that we can break through this, but continue to have the faith that we have in one another and belief in each other that our best is still out there and continue to work to give our team the ability to play at our best.”
While the leadership group starts with Lee, he’s not navigating the struggles alone.
“There’s a lot of energy that gets put in from all of us. It’s not just me,” Lee said. “We try to figure out what we can do to be better and what we can do to approach every night, so we all take on that responsibility, and I do as well. So it definitely is part of our game. It’s part of adversity. It’s part of what makes you have the opportunity to grow. It makes you better in the long run.
“And it’s tough in the interim,” Lee added. “But finding the energy, finding the love of the game, and bringing out the best in yourself to get yourself out of these situations is what makes this game so much fun and so difficult at times, and I think our guys have a good understanding of that.”
Lee also told NYI Hockey Now that through the trials and tribulations and successes, he’s constantly growing in his role.
“There’s always something. There’s a lot of situations in every season, whether it’s going well or it’s not, where you have an opportunity to take things by the reins and learn from how they went,” Lee said. “I think it’s an ever-evolving thing. It’s something that I take a lot of pride in, and this group takes a lot of pride in. So it’s just part of who we are and what we want to do, and the mentality that we have in here.”
“We have a workman-like mentality. We take a lot of pride in what we do, and there’s nothing that gets taken lightly.”
Lee’s tenure as the 15th captain in franchise history began in 2018 with the arrival of Barry Trotz. Success came relatively early for Lee and the Islanders. They were ranked second in the Metropolitan Division in year one before losing in the second round.
New York trod water in 2019-20 after losing Adam Pelech to a torn Achilles. After the season was cut short due to COVID-19, the Islanders snuck in due to the expanded playoff format. Lee and the Islanders, healthy, persevered in the summer playoffs, making it to the Eastern Conference Finals, before losing in six to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Then, in 2021, New York suffered another devastating blow, this time to their captain. Lee’s season ended in early March (two months into that season) with a torn ACL. The Islanders yet again found a way to persevere, falling 1-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Lightning.
Then in the first half of the 2021-22 season, Lee and the Islanders had to navigate a 13-game road trip to kick off the season, a COVID-19 breakout, with the league being no help, along with critical injuries to Ryan Pulock and Kyle Palmieri.
It became a lost season quickly, but Lee, like always, faced the music.
And now we get back to this season, where losing has become the common theme, and Lee’s leadership has been tested again.
Head coach Lane Lambert, who has seen Lee evolve since 2018, had this to say:
“Well, there’s been all kinds of things that have happened through his time as captain. You’re talking about COVID. You talk about his injury, you talked about last year’s struggles, right now this year at this point,” Lambert said. “I think, just he’s experiencing, and he’s learning as he grows as well. And I think what I’ve seen out of him is resiliency to maintain and hold the group together.”
As Lee and Lambert mentioned, the learning never stops, and the 32-year-old credited a handful of players for helping him along the way.
“I’ve been able to pick apart brains from a lot of phenomenal guys and great leaders. Some guys are more vocal, some guys are quiet, and some guys see things differently and made it to the NHL through different routes,” Lee said. “I can name 10 guys right now that have made an impact on my career. So very grateful for all of them.”
Lee listed eight right off the bat.
“Johnny Boychuk, Marty Reasoner, and Eric Bolton back in the day and Josh Bailey and Cal Clutterbuck and Zdeno Chara last year…Andy Greene, like there’s always guys…Matt Martin,” Lee said. “I mean guys that have seen things and been around. It’s always been for me an open conversation, and everyone’s just as involved as I am, so I think that’s what creates a great environment.”
There’s no question that the Islanders’ failures this season rest on everyone’s shoulders, from general manager Lou Lamoriello to Lambert to Lee as captain. Then, of course, the rest of the team.
There’s this belief that the leadership in the room is the issue, and no one’s trying to deny that. No one is telling the fans that everyone who wears a letter in this room is pulling their weight. But, through the success and failures of last season and now, Anders Lee’s leadership has never wavered despite the hockey gods testing him at every corner.