New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert has not shared much vocally in terms of his game plan entering preseason or the NHL season, for that matter. “We’re not married to anything right now,” Lambert said on Saturday after three straight days of training camp.
While the new bench boss is not setting anything in stone, his on-the-ice pairings and line combinations certainly tell us where his head is at, as a starting point.
Former New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz was keen on offensive duos, pairings if you will. I asked Lane if that were something he would be doing as well.
“A lot of times, you tend to have two guys together and maybe see what happens with a third guy, but it’s again, you know, we’re not married to anything from that standpoint, “Lambert said. “And it’s, it’s about looking for different combinations and trying to find out what works.”
Well, so far, we have seen a few offensive lines take the ice during scrimmage-like scenarios, as well as defensive pairings.
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New York Islanders Forward Lines
Mathew Barzal and Zach Parise played over 400 minutes together during the 2021-22 season and have developed strong chemistry over that time and have seen that grow at training camp. 21-year-old Simon Holmstrom, drafted 23d overall in 2019, notched 12 goals and 31 assists in 68 regular season games for the Bridgeport Islanders in 2021-22. Holmstrom, who will likley be starting the season in Bridgeport, is at the very top of the depth chart if a call-up is needed at the forward position.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Oliver Wahlstrom were a duo that was together for most of last season. Pageau only scored 18 goals, and Wahlstrom had just 13. Both need to bring more offense, and with Wahlstrom as the pure goal scorer, he will be relied on heavily to produce. There is comfortability there with these two, another duo likely to skate together in preseason play and, if all goes well, start the season alongside one another. Anders Lee is fresh off a 28-goal campaign in his first season back following a torn ACL.
Brock Nelson scored 38 goals in 2021-22, and while he and Lee worked wonders in the second half, Anthony Beauvillier was a member of that strong line later on. Kieffer Bellows got a new contract and is another offensive weapon that has to make the most of his opportunities like he did towards the end of last season, using his shot and physicality.
Aatu Räty has been getting a look alongside two veterans in Kyle Palmieri and Josh Bailey, but his destination is Bridgeport unless he does something crazy during his preseason minutes. He’s a strong skater with a strong shot and is mature beyond his years due to playing professional hockey in Finland against adults for the last three seasons. Palmieri and Bailey are two veterans who looked like shells of themselves in 2021-22, with the long offseason something that should have alo
The New York Islanders’ Identity Line’ has been split up at training camp. Matt Martin and a healthy Cal Clutterbuck have been without Casey Cizikas, instead with Andy Andreoff. Cizikas has centered Ross Johnston and prospect William Dufour.
Johnston and Martin will likely split time as we saw in 2021-22, with a healthy Cal Clutterbuck back and ready to go.
William Dufour is gearing up for his first AHL season, but first, he will get a taste of NHL action during the preseason.
New York Islanders Defensive Pairings
For Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock, a slow start to Zdeno Chara’s second stint as a New York Islander alongside a young Noah Dobson saw the Islanders’ top-two defenseman separated. Nine games later, Pulock’s season would be put on hold, not returning to game action until Feb. 2. When healthy, this is a shut-down defensive pairing.
A pair of 22-year-old defensemen might be a concern, but age does not mean a lack of experience. Alexander Romanov is entering his third NHL season, a physical, strong skating defenseman who will have a more prominent role than he had with the Montreal Canadiens. Noah Dobson enters his fourth NHL season after a breakout year, as he is an offensive force with his intelligent shooting and impressive skating. These two have games that complement each other nicely.
Although not a set pairing, 23-year-old Robin Salo seems to be the front-runner alongside Scott Mayfield. Salo is strong in transition and has the ability to not only create shot lanes from the blue line but get shots on goal. Mayfield, more of a stay-at-home defenseman, saw his 2021-22 season end back in early March but is 100 percent healthy.
Newcomer Dennis Cholowski and AHL veteran Grant Hutton have been a pairing, as both are fighting for the extra defenseman spot. Sebastian Aho is also in the mix but has been skating with AHLer Connor McCarthy.