When Lane Lambert took the New York Islanders head coaching gig this summer, there was a ton of confidence surrounding the team, more so from the room than from the stands. General manager Lou Lamoriello continued to share the message that the 2021-22 season was a fluke and that the roster, the core of the roster, was good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup.
Barry Trotz‘s voice, a coach who brought this roster to back-to-back Stanley Cup Semi-Finals before last season’s struggles, was no longer sufficient. Despite being on Trotz’s staff since he came to Long Island in 2018, Lane Lambert now had a chance to be the leading voice in the room.
Lane Lambert’s mission was to unlock the offense and play solid enough defensively to be a threat in the East. Through 48 games, neither has happened even remotely close to consistently, and the Islanders’ season is slowly slipping away from them as they are two points out of a wild card spot with a 23-20-5 record.
The Islanders own the ninth-worst offense in the NHL at 2.94 goals per game. Because of Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov, the Islanders’ defense is still in the top ten, at number 10, allowing 2.77 goals per game.
Forward Oliver Wahlstrom is out indefinitely.
Mat Barzal may be dealing with something after missing a game on the last road trip against the Calgary Flames. The Islanders were without netminder Varlamov for eight games, which cooled him off after a hot streak.
Over that time, All-Star Sorokin played his worst stretch of hockey this season, disallowing him from saving the Islanders. And the losses piled up.
Things have turned ugly fast.
In 11 games this month, the Islanders are 2-6-3, averaging two goals per game.
The Islanders’ latest streak, which was snapped on Saturday night in the 5-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, was that the Islanders had scored first in five-straight games.
The problem with that streak was that the Islanders had blown the lead in four of those five games, with three being blown in the third period. As for the offense, the Islanders have scored just three third-period goals this month, all coming in the 6-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
Every team deals with injuries, and good teams overcome them.
That brings us to the question of the day. Should Lane Lambert be on the hot seat?
The answer is not so simple.
There’s no question that Lambert holds some responsibility for the way the team has played. Yes, he did not make the roster, but he controls his lineups and the minutes certain players have played in games.
The power play, which has been dreadful, currently on a three-for-54 skid right now, has cost the Islanders points, and while John MacLean is in charge of the power play, Lambert is the head coach and is responsible to an extent.
Following the loss to the Hurricanes on Saturday night, Lambert was asked if he was worried his message wasn’t getting through to his team. He was adamant that that was not the case.
Then he was asked if the lack of execution falls back on the coaching staff at this point.
“I think everything that happens within the game, whether it be five on five, whether it be offensively, whether it be power play, whether it be penalty kill, that all falls on coaching at some point in one way, shape, or form,” Lambert said. “There’s no question that everyone looks in the mirror, myself included.”
When asked about Lambert’s demeanor during this tough stretch, Brock Nelson had this to say.
“I mean, it’s been probably a mixed bag. There’s games where we didn’t play well. And you know, him and the guys were all upset rightfully so, and then there’s been games where we’ve played well,” Nelson said. “And he’s positive, so it’s always going to be a roller coaster. And right now, it just seems like we’ve been close, but we haven’t got it to turn. But I still think that Lane and everyone here believes that we can get it to turn.”
We see it in sports all the time that when the team doesn’t respond well to the coach, the coach is usually the first person to go.
But if Lou Lamoriello was to fire Lane Lambert, then what happens?
MacLean and his power play have been one of the more disappointing aspects of this team, and it doesn’t seem like he would be the right voice for the group, despite having head coach experience.
He was appointed head coach of the New Jersey Devils by Lamoriello in July of 2010, but was out of a job by late December.
Doug Houda, the other assistant coach, could take over, but he has never been a head coach before.
Lamoriello could go out and offer TNT star Rick Tocchet the job, but the rumors are swirling regarding him taking over Bruce Boudreau‘s role with the Vancouver Canucks, as their season has fallen apart.
Maybe, the Islanders would offer Boudreau the gig if and when he gets fired by Jim Rutherford, the Canucks president of Hockey Operations.
But what will a new head coach do for the Islanders?
How much of this is out of Lambert’s control?
He’s been given cards, and it’s been a losing hand. Again, he’s made his mistakes, but he also hasn’t been given enough support from his top players.
The struggles fall back on Lamoriello, no questions about it. And maybe, Lamoriello’s hiring of Lambert was a mistake. That’s not a knock on Lambert and his ability to coach in the NHL, but if he wanted a new voice following Trotz, bringing on the second-biggest voice in the room may not have been what this group needed.
Lamoriello never shows his hand, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he fired or kept Lambert. We don’t know the direction this team is about to go.
If they are going to sell at the deadline, then there’s no point in bringing a new coach in here–at least right now–with the search potentially coming in the offseason. If Lamoriello intends to buy and be a competitive team in the East for one of those final wild-card spots, then maybe he sees value in a new voice and value in some new players.
But right now, things have become rather ugly on Long Island and Lane Lambert had this message to the fans, which seems to have fallen on deaf ears:
“We’re working. We’re trying. We’re fighting through some different adversity, and we’ll continue to do so.”
You can follow along with Stefen Rosner’s coverage of the New York Islanders on Twitter @stefen_rosner.