It's been the same old story for years, as the biggest gripe surrounding the NY Islanders is a lack of goal-scoring. Under Barry Trotz, the Islanders reached consecutive Conference/Semi Finals before being ousted by the Tampa Bay Lightning, as the Isles know how to play come the postseason, but getting there has proven to be a struggle the last two seasons.
Lane Lambert, who succeeded his long-time mentor in Trotz, was brought in to unlock an offensive dimension the team had been missing. For parts of last season, we saw Lambert allow his team more offensive freedom, eventually having to hone in the reigns, regressing to a system similar to that of Trotz, as top offensive players Mat Barzal and Kyle Palmieri missed a large portion of the season due to injury.
After struggling to score last season, totaling 242 goals, the Isles finished 23rd in the league, totaling 242 goals - the worst of any Eastern Conference Playoff team. Squeaking into the playoffs, the Isles seemed gassed as the post season began, coming up against a physical Carolina Hurricanes team.
Understandably, Lambert was in his first season as a head coach in the NHL and may have opted to fall back on what he felt most comfortable with through years of coaching alongside Trotz. But this season, he needs to allow his team more freedom on the offensive end of the ice.
Barzal is one of the most gifted players in the league today. His skating and puck skills can be mesmerizing, but his defensive responsibilities have blanketed those talents at times. With the acquisition of Bo Horvat and Brock Nelson coming off a 36-goal, 75-point season, the Isles may have the most decisive offense they've had in years.
It's not as if Lambert should allow his forwards to run wild without a worry of playing defense, but he still has one of the league's top defensive units and most of all, arguably the top goaltender in the league in Ilya Sorokin.
Sorokin has proven he can make the spectacular and the casual save no matter the situation. He seems to have solved a previous issue of allowing the soft goal here and there and should be trusted to bail out his team when needed. Sacrificing some defense for potentially more offense could see the Isles' path to the playoffs become less of a battle than in seasons past.
The quickest and best way to improve in the goal-scoring category would be an improvement on the power play. The Isles scored at a 15.8% clip on the man-advantage last season, the third worst in the league, just barely better than the bottom-dwelling Philadelphia Flyers and Anaheim Ducks.
A happy medium has to be found with any team as far as giving offensive freedom while remaining astute on defense. Lambert needs to figure out when to tighten and loosen the rope around his forwards, as the inept offense of years past needs to be left in the past.