The New York Islanders’ effort against the Vancouver Canucks was unacceptable on so many levels, especially with their current standing situation.
Two points would have meant a five-game winning streak, winning all three games since returning from the All-Star break, and a spot in the playoffs for at least 24 hours.
And for as bad as the Islanders played in the game, they not only found themselves up 4-2 with under five minutes to go in the second but entered the third period with a 4-3 lead.
Against a Canucks team playing for nothing, on the second of a back-to-back, all the Islanders had to do was raise their game ever so slightly, and two points were theirs.
Instead, they collapsed, allowing three unanswered goals before getting one in garbage time with 49 seconds to play, losing 6-5.
“I mean, even at the first intermission, to come out of it 2-2, but I don’t think we played very well. Probably fortunate to be in that spot,” Brock Nelson said. “But up 4-2, we’d like to think that we can close out at home against a team on a back-to-back, but for whatever reason, too many mistakes.
Noah Dobson, who was on the ice for three of the Canucks six goals, called out their effort.
“I just think overall, just wasn’t a good enough effort, especially five-on-five,” Dobson said. “They came hard. They competed hard. We got to find a way to match that. I thought we just didn’t break the puck out well, had too many turnovers, and I think overall, it’s just not good enough.
“Not good enough effort from us, and we definitely need to be better than that.”
The Islanders had 23 turnovers on the night, with Josh Bailey leading the pack with four and Scott Mayfield, the runner-up, with three.
While both struggled mightily, the loss doesn’t hang on these two alone.
Everyone was terrible in some facet of the game.
“I saw a lot of mistakes being made, a lot of individual turnovers,” Lambert said. “Twenty-three giveaways… you’re not gonna win a hockey game doing that.
“It’s unacceptable at this point.”
Thursday night was not the first time we have heard Lambert or players discuss a lack of effort and unacceptable play.
It’s actually been a common phrase.
Checking the quote book would take too much time, but from memory, those words were echoed after the loss to the New Jersey Devils in game two of the season, the loss to Arizona in mid-December, three-fourths of the four losses on Western Canada trip (and Seattle), after the loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators at the end of January.
There’s for sure more.
It makes you wonder.
Why is unacceptable accepted so often by the New York Islanders?
This is a group that general manager Lou Lamoriello has shown incredible loyalty to, to a fault. Instead of firing Barry Trotz, he could have broken up the squad.
He kept them together, changing out the coach and appointing Lambert.
Whether it’s because the Trotz system had worn them out or because Trotz knew how to get the most out of a group that lacked talent compared to the other juggernaut teams in the league, this team has looked lost too often under Lambert.
Yes, they looked loss under Trotz often last season, but Trotz wasn’t his usual self, which certainly played a part in the disaster.
Lamoriello witnessed those struggles continue too often in the first half of the 2022-23 and when he found an opportunity to make the club better, he went out and did it, scooring the talented Bo Horvat up from a disastrous Vancouver Canucks franchise.
Horvat had changed the whole vibe int he locker room as he rejuvinated Mathew Barzal and the rest of the group immediately. There was a jump to the Islanders we hadn’t seen, to that level, in quite some time at home Tuesday night against the Seattle Kraken.
But Thursday night was an example of the issue the Islanders still ahd despite having Horvat. The newcomer was never going to be able to make up for the one or two passengers the Islanders have had on a consistent basis.
That’s not to say Horvat was perfect because he wasn’t at his best, but he and Mathew Barzal combined for five points and were not on the ice for a single Canucks goal.
Some of this certainly falls back on Lambert.
Clearly, Lambert has struggled to get the most out of his group, and at the end of the day, that’s his responsibility.
The Islanders have 27 games remaining before the 2022-23 season closes. They are tied in points with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have five games in hand. They are a point back of the Washington Capitals, who have two games in hand.
“Behind” them by one point in the standings is the Florida Panthers, who have a game in hand, followed by a Buffalo Sabres team three points back with five games in hand.
There’s no room for errors if the Islanders are going to find a way into the playoffs, and Thursday night becomes one of the losses, like the ones listed above, that puts another nail in their coffin.
It’s one thing to lose when you get outplayed. It’s another thing to lose when effort is an issue, and a team where effort is the number one problem in losses is a team that isn’t deserving of vying for a Stanley Cup.
The New York Islanders have a critical opportunity to right a rough wrong when they head to Montreal to face a Canadiens team that sits second-to-last in the Eastern Conference before a home game on Valentine’s Day against the Ottawa Senators, in the same boat.
Then the schedule gets tough, and the Islanders get to show what they are truly made of as the number of games left to save the season dwindles.