New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello made little to no changes to his personnel this past summer. His most significant change came to the coaching staff as he fired future Hall of Fame head coach Barry Trotz, elevating his associate head coach Lane Lambert.
The 58-year-old Lane Lambert had never had an NHL head coaching gig, as he had been on Barry Trotz’s staff since the Nashville Predators days starting in 2011.
In his first 41 games as a head coach, Lambert’s Islanders have played mediocre hockey yet find themselves in a playoff spot, so we could say he is hovering around a B right now. He’s been able to keep the Islanders afloat in the toughest division in hockey, but there is a level that this team can reach that we haven’t seen consistently yet.
Lambert’s Handling of the Media
Despite learning from Trotz, Lambert is nothing like him when it comes to the media–likely by design.
Trotz would tell us everything except who was starting in goal, while Lambert holds most information close to his vest.
We try to pry things out of him, but we often get the “well see” or “you will find out during warmups” answer.
After one of the first few media availabilities, I asked Lane if he would give the “a Russian” when asked who would be in goal like his mentor did.
He laughed at me and said he didn’t think so.
Lambert has refrained from calling out his players in the media, something Trotz notoriously did, whether direct or indirect.
There’s no question Lambert has painted a false picture of himself as a coach with his one or two-word responses, but for the fans that can take what he says with a grain of salt, they know that he is more than competent.
Uptick in Offensive Production
After 41 games, the Islanders have scored 3.15 goals per game, which ranks 18th out of 32 teams. Last season, the Islanders scored just 2.79, so Lambert’s strategy has paid off offensively.
The offense was the most significant question mark entering the season as the Islanders under Trotz were forced to play a 200-foot game which meant getting back on defense as soon as the puck left the offensive zone, which limited their ability to rack up offensive zone time.
But now, the forwards are hugging the opponent’s blue line and staying higher in the neutral zone.
And the most significant difference has been the activation of the defensemen, which has helped the New York Islanders create more offense on a nightly basis.
The Islanders backend leads the NHL in goals among defensemen, as led by Noah Dobson, and his 10 goals, along with his blue-line comrades, have combined for 25.
Lambert’s tweak has had adverse effects on their defensive play, though.
Not Tight Enough Defensively
Because the Islanders are more focused on offense, which they needed to be, their defense has not been as compact.
Too often, their gap control has been underwhelming, allowing odd-man rushes at a much higher rate than under Trotz. Their play in front of their netminders has been much weaker in terms of boxing out.
29 ➡️ 18 ➡️ 🚨 pic.twitter.com/OTqoPYDWy9
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) January 6, 2023
Their inability to get pucks out of the defensive zone has also limited their ability to transition and score off the rush.
Even before elite defenseman Adam Pelech got hurt, the defense was shaky.
Despite Sebastian Aho‘s growth in year four, he still has to work on his defensive game.
But the defensive struggles do not just fall on the backend members.
While the odd-man rush issue has a lot to do with defensemen getting caught in the neutral zone, we have seen time and time again forwards fail to backcheck correctly, leaving the high guy wide open, flying in for easy goals.
Dill with it 😎 pic.twitter.com/BIl3mSsUjL
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) January 7, 2023
Holding Certain Players Accountable
While Lambert may not express his displeasure with certain players on his team, he has helped a few players accountable for their struggles. Josh Bailey, who has had a rough go of things, especially over the last few years, has been a healthy scratch a handful of times this season.
Although when in the lineup, he has played alongside Mat Barzal, people need to understand that Barzal’s line is not automatically the line that gets the most ice time. Yes, we list them as the top line during rushes, but the order means nothing.
Anthony Beauvillier, who continues to disappoint, has also served as a healthy scratch, but with all the injuries, Lambert has had no choice but to play the players he has.
The blame should be on Lamoriello, not Lambert, as he has to play the players he has. He can’t make trades, but he can monitor ice time and take certain players out of the rotation, but again that hurts the team in the long haul, given the need to double shift.
It will be interesting to see what Lambert does when he gets players back, as there is no question that some of the call-ups are producing and helping the Islanders at a much higher rate than the NHL regulars on the New York Islanders roster.