After an unacceptable effort against a Vancouver Canucks team, blowing a third-period lead in a 6-5 loss on Thursday, Lane Lambert and the New York Islanders mimicked that again on Saturday afternoon against the Montreal Canadiens, a 4-3 overtime loss.
Another third-period lead.
Another third-period lead blown.
Following the game, the fans took to social media, begging Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello to fire Lane Lambert as the club is back to playing the mediocre hockey that has plagued them for most of the season.
But firing the first-year head coach at this point of the season is pointless.
Lambert has made his fair share of mistakes this season. He’s made some questionable lineup decisions, and his voice in the room hasn’t done enough to get the most out of the group.
That’s not to say that the Islanders’ failure to be ready to go is on him alone, as one must look at the leaders in the room, too.
First off, Lamoriello took the blame for the Islanders’ struggles, backing Lambert and the coaching staff just before the All-Star break. Yes, that’s Lamoriello’s job, and it was on him to give Lambert a strong roster. But things can change in a span of a few weeks.
Lambert took over a team that showed their mediocrity last season, with COVID-19 and injuries masking the struggles.
Under head coach Barry Trotz, the Islanders were not a strong regular season team, but he found a way to get the most out of this group until his final season, leading to his contract termination this past summer.
The decision to fire Trotz is worth a conversation now because one could say that he wasn’t the issue at all and that if Lamoriello thought Trotz’s voice was the wrong one, the neighboring Lambert voice wasn’t going to change much.
And we’ve seen that lack of a new voice lead to a lack of change for most of this season.
The time to have fired Lane Lambert was in early January when the Islanders were at their worst for the longest stretch of time, a 4-8-3 month that will likely cost them a playoff spot.
But Lambert and his coaching staff survived that.
A coaching change at that time could have sparked the group, and a logical head coach option was available in Rick Tocchet.
The former Arizona Coyotes head coach and TNT analyst is now coaching in Vancouver after Bruce Boudreau was fired in late January.
If Lamoriello were to fire Lambert right now, what would it do for the team?
Nothing has shown to spark this team enough this season.
Firing Lambert could serve as a wake-up call, but the issue with the team is how it has been constructed, and as much as the offense has been “better” at times this season, they’ve shown an ability to play strong enough defensively.
The lack of defensive awareness from veteran, high-caliber defenseman is a concern but not something that a coach is going to be able to fix.
That’s on the players.
But let’s say Lambert was fired.
The two options are appointing someone from the coaching staff to fill Lambert’s position for the rest of the season or hiring a coach.
Johnny MacLean and Doug Houda might not be the focal voice in the room right now, but their voices certainly haven’t helped.
MacLean is in charge of the power play, which ranks sixth-worst in the league at 17.2 percent. Doug Houda is in charge of the penalty kill, which ranks 15th in the NHL at 82.7 percent. The defense has struggled this season.
Now, to outside options.
If you think Trotz is coming back, get that out of your head because it’s not happening. There’s zero information to show that Trotz leaving the island was due to a decision on his part.
He was fired.
Bruce Boudreau, who was beloved by his Vancouver Canucks players and the fan base and certainly not treated fairly by team president Jim Rutherford, has failed to coach a team to the playoffs over the last four seasons and certainly did not get the most out of his Canucks team this season, a team that had playoff aspirations.
Mike Babcock was another name floating around Saturday. The longtime NHL coach was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2019 and knew it was coming after Lamoriello left Toronto.
There’s a strong relationship there, but Babcock did some questionable things in Toronto, especially forcing a 19-year-old Mitch Marner to put a list together of teammates he believed were not giving their all and then having that list shared with the group.
That was back during the 2016-17 season.
Babcock last had an NHL coaching gig in 2019, and there’s a reason for that.
Longtime Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville should be a non-option for the role he played in the Kyle Beach sexual assault cover-up, and one would be pretty shocked if he got another head coaching gig.
The options to relieve Lambert are slim, slim to none.
The best option for the Islanders is to let this season play out, see if the Islanders can sneak in, and, either way, evaluate Lambert and the rest of the coaching staff in the offseason.
If this is the final season of Lamoriello, and his son Chris is not appointed, the incoming general manager will likely want to pick his own coach anyway.
The New York Islanders are currently a point out of a wild-card spot, but the Washington Capitals, who are in the top spot with 62 points, have two games in hand, while the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are in the second spot with 61 points, have four games in hand.
It’s still up in the air if Lamoriello is going to go all in at the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline on March 3. It will be up to Lane Lambert and his players to stay close enough in the race to make buying the logical choice.
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