The last time the New York Islanders skated on home ice on Nov. 11, fans were chanting "Fire Lambert" during a lackluster 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals. As they headed out on a four-game road trip, there were those who thought how the Isles performed would decide whether Lane Lambert was still behind the bench for the team's next game at UBS Arena on Wednesday night.
For all we know, that could still be the case.
While the road trip ended in Calgary with a 5-4 shootout win, salvaging a .500 record (1-1-2) after losing the previous two games first in O.T. and then in a shootout, the underlying issues that were prevalent before they headed west were still very much on display during the trip.
The penalty kill was dreadful (12-for-24) over the previous seven games before a clean sheet vs. the Flames. They blew a third-period lead in each of their last three games, including two on Saturday. The bad penalties at inopportune times keep coming, and their goaltenders are facing the second-most shots-on-goal in the league. These are not the characteristics of winning teams.
GM Lou Lamoriello was on the road trip, surveying the roster and presumably the head coach. Lambert said that he and Lamoriello spoken often during the trip, but none of the discussions were about his job status, but rather what the team needed to do to turn things around.
“You just focus on what you can do and what you can control,” Lambert said before the game against the Flames. “Our team’s playing hard. I think, what, we’ve given up one five-on-five goal this trip. Guys are playing hard. There’s a lot of positives in this game that we’re playing.”
It's hard to think that Lambert's status depended completely on whether the team won the shootout on Saturday night. Did Oliver Wahlstrom save his coach's job? That seems unlikely. If Lamoriello was going to make a change, it was always going to come after the trip concluded. Edmonton fired Jay Woodcroft coming off a 4-1 win at Seattle. The decision had been made, it just took another day for it to play itself out.
Lambert and the team keep talking about how they deserved better results during the seven-game winless streak. Yes, they may be playing well at even strength, but special teams and the ability to clamp down and protect a lead are just as important. You can't over-emphasize one thing and try to minimize the other.
“I 100% feel for them,” Lambert said of his players during the trip. “There’s nobody that wants to win more than them. For whatever reason right now, we’re not getting rewarded. But there’s only one thing to do, and that is to keep going until you start to. It can change quickly.”
The question is has Lamoriello determined that Lambert should remain to see if it happens.