On the surface, Lane Lambert was set up to succeed in his first season as an NHL head coach; having been an assistant to Barry Trotz the previous four seasons, Lambert's familiarity with the roster would allow him to get a jump start on changing the Isles defensive-first structure to a more aggressive offensive, and do so with a good understanding of players strengths and weaknesses.
But the reality is that the New York Islanders roster lacks the offensive skillset that can overcome a step back in their defensive prowess. That was true at the start of the season and it has become abundantly evident as the team has battled injuries to their forward group, with both Kyle Palmieri and Oliver Wahlstrom missing extended time. Even the team's constant - their fourth line has not been able to deliver due to Cal Clutterbuck's three-injury list and the need for Casey Cizikas to play wing due to the aforementioned injuries in the top-nine.
“We’re working. We’re trying,” Lambert said when asked about his message to the fanbase, given this recent stretch of bad results. “We’re fighting through some different adversity, and we’ll continue to do so.” The fans are knowledgeable, they know that on most nights the Islanders are not skating with a better roster than their opponents and do not have many advantages - except in net with Ilya Sorokin.
Still, whether it was an organizational decision or not, the William Dufour one-and-done seemed ill-advised, and the failure to fix the power play to make it average and not dreadful falls on coaching. They waited too long to make changes and haven't been willing to stick with any of the new units featured in practice as the drought continues. The message is the same, more pucks on net, more bodies in front, but the results have stayed the same. As the team's 5v5 numbers have slipped, the deficiencies with the extra skater have become more pronounced.
Then there are the constant changes to Mathew Barzal's line-mates. Barzal has shown an ability to produce with rotating wingers, but not to this extent. Rather than bolster Barzal's line with better forwards, more times than not, Lambert has used it as a landing spot for the extra forward that, out of necessity, doesn't have a clear home as the team mixes and matches due to injury.
There's plenty of blame to go around as it becomes increasingly likely that the Islanders miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season after back-to-back deep playoff runs. But the ire of the fanbase is more focused on GM Lou Lamoriello and is perceived inability or unwillingness to improve the roster during the off-season.
The chants of "Fire Lou" heard at UBS Arena during the final minutes of Saturday's 5-2 loss to Carolina, the team's eighth in nine games (1-4-3), may have been faint, but will undoubtedly grow in decibel level if the losing continues without significant changes made. Eventually, that frustration may eventually make its way to the first-year head coach.