CHICAGO, IL–This summer, New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello switched from the defensive-focused Barry Trotz to a first-year head coach in Lane Lambert. The New York Islanders needed to find a way to generate more offense, and Lamoriello believed his group had the players to do so.
In a nightmarish 2021-22 season, the New York Islanders mustered just 2.79 goals per game which ranked 23rd in the NHL, and throughout Trotz’s tenure, the Islanders averaged 2.75 goals per game.
The good news for the New York Islanders, and probably a reason Lane Lambert got hired, was that he wanted to play a more aggressive style if his personnel would allow it.
That was the biggest question mark. Could these players play more aggressively and pot more goals while still playing a shutdown brand of hockey in their own zone?
After nine games, Lambert has shown that he does have the players to play his variation of Trotz’s system.
The Islanders have scored 33 goals, which ranks fifth in the NHL. Of the 33 goals, only three have come on the power play and one from the penalty killers.
“I knew the group pretty well. I know the talent that’s in here. Certainly, we talked about their character as well. But you know, there’s a lot of talent, a lot of skill in this group. So I had confidence from that.”
The power play is a problem, coming through just 10.7 percent (28th) of the time. It was a prime focus at Monday’s practice. Getting the power play going is the final piece to their puzzle, as the penalty kill unit is the best in the NHL at 96.7 percent.
Their 3.67 goals per game have them sitting fourth in the league, while their 33.3 shots on goal per game rank 11th.
Although the Islanders only have been outscored 5-4 in first periods (allowed the first goal six of the nine times), they have outscored their opponents 8-7 in the second and a whopping 12-6 in the third period.
If you thought the New York Islanders had any chance of producing this kind of offense, one would think that Brock Nelson, who scored 37 a year ago, and the offensively gifted Mathew Barzal would be leading the way in a more aggressive system.
Seven games into the season, Brock Nelson was without a goal, scoring three over his last two games, while Mat Barzal, through nine games, has yet to light the lamp but has 10 assists.
“If you look at the forward lines, I think you got a few guys on each line who know how to score and scored quite a bit throughout their careers,” Brock Nelson said. “And then on the backend, it’s nice to see some guys get involved when you look at guys like Pulock, Pelech, Mayfield, Dobson, other offensive guys that can get [score], are getting rewarded.”
Over the last few games, Mat Barzal looked like the game-changer the Islanders need him to be. He’s been leading in transition. He’s been cycling the offensive zone, and when he sees a passing lane, he’s finding his teammates.
Yes, the Islanders will eventually need Mat Barzal to score, but he’s putting up the points, and an assist is as good as a goal as long as the assists keep coming.
Oliver Wahlstrom and Anders Lee lead the Islanders with four goals each, followed by Noah Dobson, Scott Mayfield, Anthony Beauvillier, and Brock Nelson who have three. Only three forwards, three centers, on the roster have not scored: Barzal, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Casey Cizikas.
“We’ve just been putting the puck in the net,” Mat Barzal said. “I think in the past, we’ve had lots of chances, just never buried. So it’s been a good start.”
While the offense has showcased they have what it takes, they have allowed the ninth-fewest goals (24), the sixth-fewest goals against per game (2.67), and have allowed the 13th fewest shots against per game (32.7).
NYI Hockey Now spoke with Islanders captain Anders Lee about playing in a defensive-minded system for a few years, but if he always knew this team could play strong on both sides of the puck.
“I think it’s just part of our structure,” Anders Lee told NYI Hockey Now. I don’t think it was really like a defensive mindset really.[We] just made sure we took care of our defensive zone, Lee said. “We’ve always had what’s going on [now]. Just right now, we’re playing good hockey and putting ourselves in a position to put the puck in the net.”
Not burying has been the biggest issue for the New York Islanders. The chances were there. You are just seeing a stronger conversion rate so far this season.
One would think that the offense from the forward lately would take pressure off the defensemen and goaltending having to be as close to perfect to win. Defensemen Noah Dobson and Ryan Pulock shared their answers with NYI Hockey Now.
“I mean, I don’t think we’re trying to be perfect every night. It’s unrealistic, but I think it makes it a little easier on our goalies,” Dobson said. “I think it’s tough when you don’t score a lot. It puts a lot of pressure on the goalies, that [if] they let one in, they know it’s tough.”
“So to be able to score some goals and helps our goalies out, for sure.”
Dobson, like Lee, believed this group could be offensive.
“I think we’re just playing a little more aggressively. Personnel-wise, we got some good puck movers on the backend and stuff. So that’s just a little bit of everything. But I think we’ve always had the belief in ourselves that we can be an offensive team as well as being reliable defensively.”
For Pulock, the focus is on their job every night, regardless of how the forwards do.
“Obviously, it’s great. And you need that,” Pulock said. “I think for us back there, you know, we’re just trying to do a job every night whether our forwards score three or score six. We’re trying to limit their opportunities, as few as we can. So it’s great, obviously, that we’re able to score a little more.”
“But I think the mindset on the backend stays kind of the same, and it’s just playing the right way playing hard, and trying to limit chances.”
Semyon Varlamov spoke about how the increase in goals affected him and his mindset.
“Definitely gives you confidence when the team’s scoring a lot of goals. It’s always nice to see the team creating scoring chances and then scoring goals,” Semyon Varlamov. “You can’t win if you can’t score. And then we’re scoring goals, and we’re winning games, and this is what’s happening.”
So it’s fun to see that.”
The New York Islanders kick off a three-game road trip, starting with the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, the St. Louis Blue on Wednesday, and the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.
The New York Islanders enter this road trip 5-4-0 on the season, having won three straight, outscoring their opponents 14-6.