New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert had his reasons for scratching forward Pierre Engvall for Thursday night's game against the Boston Bruins; he just isn't telling us. “I can’t tell you,” Lambert said after the 5-2 loss. “Pierre and I had a conversation, and we’ll just leave it at that.”
With Lambert staying silent on his rationale, we're all led to believe it mostly had to do with Engvall's costly turnover in the third period of Tuesday's loss to the Minnesota Wild. Engvall was too reliant on his speed and was pestered by Pat Maroon, who stripped him and set up Joel Eriksson Ek for a backbreaking second goal in 42 seconds that gave Minnesota a 4-2 lead.
Engvall's turnover was especially egregious, he had the puck near the Wild blue line only to be chased back into his own zone before the turnover. It simply can't happen and players need to be held accountable. I don't think any fan would disagree with that sentiment.
The problem is that Lambert chose to use this to make an example out of Engvall, who, despite not having scored in 11 games, has been a major contributor on their best line and one of the better lines in all of the NHL. By scratching Engvall, he broke up the team's most consistent trio, and the results were costly. Anders Lee moved down to play with Brock Nelson and Kyle Palmieri, and each player was a -3 on the night. "I thought they'd be better," said Lambert of the miscalculation. The line only mustered four shots on goal and allowed 11, the worst differential by far of any line vs. Boston.
So was there any other reason to scratch Engvall?
With Bo Horvat returning to the lineup, someone who played on Tuesday night was going to be scratched. Oliver Wahlstrom scored his first goal of the season and it's understandable if Lambert wanted to reward him to keep him in the lineup and see how he looked on the wing alongside Horvat and Mathew Barzal.
Keeping Wahlstrom on the top line meant Lambert needed to find a spot for Anders Lee, who has had a miserable start to his season. The second-year head coach could have seen the Engvall teachable moment as a way to try to get Lee going by playing with Nelson and Palmieri. It just didn't work. Simon Holmstrom scored another short-handed goal and has played well with JG Pageau, he's not going anywhere at the moment, he's part of the top 12 forwards.
If Lambert is reluctant to scratch Lee, the team captain, then it likely means that Hudson Fasching will be scratched to insert Engvall back in the lineup, or he'll have to break up the fourth line, something he hasn't done this season, despite diminished minutes for Matt Martin.
It was a questionable decision from Lambert which was first-guessed by most when it happened. The move failed to create the results he was looking for from Lee, and now we'll wait to see if it ends up having a positive impact on Engvall when he returns to the lineup.