SUNRISE, FL–Hop on the Long Island Merry-Go-Round. Over the last three games, New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert has shuffled his lineup, whether it be line combinations or personnel, to try and spark his group and get a winning result.
The decisions have not panned out.
In Thursday’s 4-2 embarrassing loss to the New Jersey Devils, Lambert changed up his lines in the third period as he tried to spark something with his club down 2-0 at that point.
Oliver Wahlstrom, who was promoted to the Islanders’ second line, with Brock Nelson and Anders Lee, after a dominant two-goal performance against the San Jose Sharks, found himself back on the third line with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Josh Bailey.
Lee skated with Mat Barzal and Kyle Palmieri, with Lee scoring late in the third. Brock Nelson skated with Josh Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier.
But those in-game moves did not do enough.
Soshnikov, who skated with Pageau and Wahlstrom, failed to provide the spark for the New York Islanders. The spark went to the Bolts, as Soshnikov had a costly turnover late in the second period that led to a Nick Paul goal with a second on the clock to give the Lightning a 4-2 lead heading into the third period.
SIMPLY HAD TO DO IT TO 'EM 🤝 pic.twitter.com/EBQl0eqMcE
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) October 23, 2022
The Islanders made it a 4-3 game but could not climb all the way back before ultimately losing 5-3.
“Oh, we just needed to get a spark, and it was a good opportunity to put Soshnikov in the lineup,” Lambert said following that contest as the reason for his move.
On what he needs to see Bailey do better to be in the lineup: “That doesn’t really have anything to do with it.”
On Sunday night, Josh Bailey was back in the lineup, and Soshnikov took his place amongst the scratches. But another Islanders forward was out of the lineup as Anthony Beauvillier, fresh off a goal, was scratched. Ross Johnston made his season debut alongside Pageau and Wahlstrom on the third line.
The belief was that Anthony Beauvillier might have been banged up, as after he scored against the Lightning, he crashed hard into the boards and was slow to get up. He did finish the game, but maybe something was ailing him.
After the game, Lambert shared that the scratching of Beauvillier was a coach’s decision.
Beauvillier had two goals and one assist through the Islanders’ first five games.
Johnston, like Soshnikov, did not have a good game when given a chance, as he took an elbowing penalty six minutes into the game after the Islanders had already been on the kill. When he was on the ice, the Panthers outshot the Islanders 6-2, scoring a goal.
Following the game, Lambert shared why he went with Johnston.
“Physical game. Physical player.”
23-year-old Kieffer Bellows has not been given the opportunity to play after playing a limited role in the opening night loss to the Florida Panthers, which Lambert said was due to the abundance of special team minutes in that one–with Bellows not playing on either the power play or penalty kill.
We asked again if Bellows had done something to not get a chance while the Islanders’ struggles continued.
Three games. Three different decisions. Three losses.
New York Islanders captain Anders Lee spoke about the lineup shuffles on this skid.
“[Lane’s] trying to get guys going and find lines that are being productive out there,” Lee said. “And just, kind of, I think, what you would expect when things aren’t going completely the right way.”
Now, there is optimism that the Islanders are close to figuring it out.
“We did a lot of good things. Our game is going in the right direction,” Lee said. “We’re not getting the results right now, so we got to find a way to stick with it, push through this and be ready to go for Wednesday.”
Lambert also believes, despite the results, that his team is close to figuring things out.
“I think we’re close. But at the same time, we’ve got to lock it down here soon.”
And looking at the last three games, there’s no question the Islanders have been better. But this is a league based on results, and despite the uptick in performances over their last two contests, zero points are zero points.
The first-year bench boss also shared that his team has “a ton of urgency,” but that urgency doesn’t seem to be there at the beginning of games.
Although the Islanders are not looking backward to the nightmarish 2021-22 season, there is an understanding of how difficult it is to dig out of an early season hole, and the Islanders cannot afford to have that happen again.
Although Lambert believes that the right pieces are here, he needs more out of his players than he is getting.
Veterans on the backend are coughing up pucks directly leading to goals. Veterans with prime scoring chances are not coming through, and that sense of urgency that Lambert spoke about does not seem to be there.
The players coming into the lineup are not providing the spark that the Islanders need, and while Lane Lambert decisions are being questioned by the fan base, he’s trying to do anything he can to find an answer.
This is a group that has proven in the past that they can play a much better game than what we are seeing, but with what happened last season, the same issues have plagued them despite a new coach and updated system.
Credit to Lambert for taking NHL staples out of the lineup early in the season. He has a sense of urgency, that’s for sure.