Those in attendance at New York Islanders practice at Northwell Health Ice Center on Monday described a noticeably different tone being set by head coach Lane Lambert. Drills were regularly stopped as players were called out and corrected, with Lambert often demonstrating how he wanted things done. His assistants mainly remained silent; it was his practice and an opportunity to hone in on the little things and attention to detail he feels his team has been lacking.
“It was great,” said Bo Horvat. “A lot of times, you need those practices…the competitive practices where you’re battling and mimicking game situations. Today was one of those days, and I thought it was really good.”
When meeting with the media, Lambert downplayed the up-tempo, intense practice as a rare opportunity to have a "practice day" where he pushed the team hard and coached in this style. But given how visibly frustrated he was after the last two games, both losses in which the Islanders held a third-period lead, it felt more like a calculated move to add an edge to their game that has been missing; he preached talking more, skating more, and being physical.
These are things that you wouldn't think a veteran team would need at this juncture of the season, but the Islanders, a team that prided themselves on their structure and attention to detail under Barry Trotz while Lambert was an assistant, have struggled to maintain their defensive identity this season.
“It was a workday,” captain said Anders Lee. “We had a high-tempo practice. The guys worked hard and when there were things that needed to be corrected, they were. That’s exactly what you want when you come into a day. You can come out and get better.”
The Isles do indeed need to get better. Despite their many missteps, they are only one point out of a playoff spot heading into Tuesday night's game against the Ottawa Senators at UBS Arena, but the Pittsburgh Penguins have four games in hand. The Isles are two points behind the Washington Capitals, having played one more game than Peter Laviolette's team.
Was it a change in approach or just a rare opportunity to emphasize things that the coach seized upon? Perhaps it was a mix of both, but something needed to be done and grab the players' attention. To have any chance at making a playoff push, this troubling trend of blowing third-period leads and being unable to close down games needs to stop.
The long overdue, tough love practice was a positive and overdue development to do just that.