When it happened against the Blue Jackets in Saturday's 2-0 win in Columbus, it was seen as a blip. New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert moved Mathew Barzal down to the third line centered with JG Pageau to play Simon Holmstrom, while Oliver Wahlstrom was moved up alongside Bo Horvat and Anders Lee.
Line changes during games are common; the coach sees something he doesn't like and shakes up a line to get individuals or the collective team going. However, after it happened again during Monday's 4-3 loss to OT, Lambert was questioned and asked to explain his rationale.
"They were creating a lot of chances offensively. Just defensively, we've got to shore things up," said Lambert. The problem was they didn't short things up and the Red Wings ended up scoring three goals in the third period; two of them came on the newly formed lines after the Barzal/Wahlstrom swap. After reviewing the game film, Lambert admitted their defensive play may not have warranted the change.
“When I went back and looked at it, it wasn’t maybe as bad as I thought it was [after the game],’’ Lambert said at the Isles optional skate on Tuesday. “Certainly, you don’t want to be giving up Grade-A chances,” he continued. “You don’t want to be trading chances, chance for chance. That’s not how our team is built.”
As for Barzal, he took the change in stride when asked about it by the media on Tuesday, though he doesn't feel that he and Horvat have been a liability defensively.
“I think it’s been pretty solid,’’ Barzal said of his line's defensive work. “We haven’t spent a ton of time in our end. Maybe the last two games, a little bit more. We’ve been pretty good. ...I think chance for chance, we outweigh the other side,’’ Barzal added.
It doesn't sound like Barzal and Horvat will start Thursday's game in Washington on different lines, not after Lambert's comments after reviewing the tape. That doesn't mean another switch won't come at some point, however. If and when it does, Barzal is going to trust that his coach is putting was best four lines out there, based on the situation.
“It is what it is,’’ Barzal said. “Lane’s the coach. He knows what he’s doing.”