There have been numerous calls this season for the NY Islanders to fire head coach Lane Lambert. The first wave came after a 1-1-2 West Coast trip that saw the Islanders blow 3rd-period leads in three straight games. The second round of speculation came after the Islanders blew a 4-1 lead to the San Jose Sharks, losing in overtime 5-4 at UBS Arena. Through all the hysteria, Lambert remains behind the bench, writing the starting lineup every night.
Suffice it to say that the second-year coach has not had a perfect season by any measure. Some of the problems are out of his control, such as the injuries to Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock that have forced Samuel Bolduc into the lineup. However, some of the complications are his responsibility, such as the complete 180 the penalty kill has experienced from one year ago. Add that to the 40 or more shots taken by Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov every night, and the Islanders will find themselves in the losing category. Among many other critiques, Lou Lamoriello seems committed to standing by his head coach. That leaves the question, why will Lambert remain behind the bench through the 2023-24 season?
The team has overcome adversity
The Islanders have suffered a multitude of injuries to key players on their roster both last season and this season. Oliver Wahlstrom missed the latter half of last season with an upper-body injury, but Lambert trusted Hudson Fasching to step up and perform well on the Isles 3rd-line. After a horrendous January where Pelech missed a lot of time and the team went 4-7-3, the Islanders bounced back to record a 6-3-3 record in February. Despite Mathew Barzal missing the final 24 games of the 2022-23 season, Lambert held the roster together as the team went 14-8-2, clinching the top wild-card spot.
Furthermore, the Islanders' ability to bounce back from brutal losses in 3rd period this season shows Lambert still has respect among the players. The team has been playing without two of their most effective defensemen, Pelech and Pulock. Despite this, the roster has fought through the adversity, having a 9-2-3 record since their shootout loss to the Seattle Kraken on November 16th. This ability to bounce back from a horrendous West Coast trip and rally the team without Pelech and Pulock represents character level in the locker room.
The Islanders responded well after their brutal overtime loss to the Sharks on December 5th. The team won four straight games at UBS Arena, including impressive comeback victories against the Los Angeles Kings and Toronto Maple Leafs. While there have been inexcusable penalties and awful turnovers along this path, the Islanders still defeated two of the best teams in the NHL.
Notwithstanding the criticism that can be placed on the desk of Lambert, this veteran group has not given up and has shown maximum effort in every game. The team is playing with a makeshift defense with Mike Reilly being claimed off waivers and Robert Bortuzzo taken off the St. Louis Blues’ bench. The roster is an older, declining group, that has limitations both on offense and defense. The team does have many problems that need to be solved, particularly on the penalty kill and closing out games. Despite the hand Lambert has been dealt, he should be given credit for the Islanders overcoming this and having a 14-8-8 record.