3 NY Islanders still feeling the effects of Lane Lambert's tenure

The fatigue is starting to set in on the Isles' blue line.

Apr 25, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) and
Apr 25, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) and / James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
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The NY Islanders have not played well over their last subset of games. Aside from their 6-3 victory on Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets, the Isles have lost 6 of 7. Even with the Detroit Red Wings continuing to lose games, the Isles are falling further behind in their pursuit of the second wild card position. Instead of the Isles taking advantage of a mediocre Eastern Conference, it has been the Washington Capitals who have won 5 of their last 6 games, placing themselves well in front for the final playoff spot come April.

There are many reasons the Islanders never built off their six-game winning streak in early March. Most notable have been the offensive mishap as the team has been shut out three times in the last seven games. Secondary has been their defensive performance as the goaltenders have received more shots on goal than previously under Patrick Roy. However, the decline of certain performances can be directly linked to their usage under Lane Lambert earlier this season.

1. Noah Dobson

The Islanders opened the 2023-24 season with certain expectations from a veteran roster. The first was a reliance from their Vezina Trophy award finalist Ilya Sorokin to make a plethora of saves. Secondly was their defensemen to block shots, show a strong forecheck at the blue line, and mirror a penalty kill that ranked 6th in the NHL in 2022-23.

However, these plans changed as the injuries piled up on defense. Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock each missed 24 games while Scott Mayfield has only appeared in 41. As a result, Lambert asked the top defensemen to carry the load. The most notable was Noah Dobson, who was in the midst of a breakout season recording 46 points in 49 games through January. In 43 of those games, Dobson played more than 25 minutes in 43 games including over 28 minutes in seven of those.

However, the fatigue from increased usage under Lambert has set in for the 24-year-old defenseman. With the injuries setting in on defense and the team performing poorly, Lambert played his best defenseman into the ground in desperation to save his job. Unfortunately, Dobson's statistics have suffered only recording 11 points in 22 games between February and March. Even Butch Goring took note on Sunday by pointing out how Dobson has not skated with the same authority he had shown earlier in the season.

2. Ilya Sorkin

The Islanders had many problems surrounding their 2022-23 roster. Their offense was subpar even after trading for Bo Horvat during the all-star break. Their powerplay was anemic, ranking 28th in the NHL for success rate. Aside from Brock Nelson, nobody had a career season heading into the playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes.

However, the one saving grace for this Islanders team was the heroics of Ilya Sorokin. In 60 games started in net, Sorokin had 1,698 saves in 1,838 attempts. This resulted in a .924 save percentage and a league-leading 6 shutouts. Given this performance, Lambert desperately played Sorokin in the final 13 games of the season to ensure a playoff clincher. Furthermore, the 27-year-old netminder played all six games against the Hurricanes in round one.

It has been clear all season that Sorokin is feeling the effects of playing all those games in a row. While the fans were relieved to see the Islanders in the playoffs, we all question the decision from Lambert to essentially bench Semyon Varlamov. The 35-year-old goaltender did lead the team to the Eastern Conference Finals twice in back-to-back seasons. As a result, Sorokin has not replicated the same Vezina Trophy finalist numbers he posted in 2022-23. Subsequently, the Isles are not in a playoff spot in late March.

3. Alexander Romanov

With the overload of injuries on defense, Lou Lamoriello sought help both internally and externally. Samuel Bolduc was the first choice but struggled through 33 games played, only averaging 10 minutes of ice time. Grant Hutton was the next option but was sent back to Bridgeport after the Isles claimed Mike Reilly off waivers from the Florida Panthers. Finally, the team traded a 7th-round selection in the 2024 draft to the St. Louis Blues for Robert Bortuzzo, who has only played 14 games in an Islanders uniform.

Suffice it to say, none of these players became regulars other than Reilly who has been an absolute steal. When the injuries struck, the Isles needed to find a linemate to pair with Dobson in carrying the extra ice time. The most worthy option on the roster was 24-year-old Alexander Romanov who was reinventing himself to add more offense to his game. Playing alongside Dobson, Romanov showcased his improvements recording 5 goals and 8 assists in 49 games through January. He also earned more ice time, playing more than 24 minutes on 13 occasions.

Unfortunately, those numbers have not held constant in February and March. Romanov has just two goals and two assists in 21 games having recorded zero shots on goal in eight. Roy has paired the 24-year-old with Pulock in recent games and the results have not improved. With Lambert on the hot seat in November and December, he often left his two young stars on the ice more than the average defenseman. As a result, Romanov has seen a decline in performance level as the Isles enter the final stretch of 11 games.