Coach Lane Lambert likely back for Year 2 with Islanders


Ryan Pulock gave the most frank assessment of coach Lane Lambert’s first season in charge of the Islanders.

“I think it’s a tough position no matter who you are,” Pulock, an eight-season Islanders veteran, said during the team’s breakup day. “A lot of ups and downs and learning curves, your first year as head coach. I thought he did a pretty good job of working through that, finding ways to help us have success. Different areas of the game and different changes that we had to make within style or whatnot throughout the year.

“I think it’s like [that] your first year as head coach. You’re gonna have ups, you’re gonna have downs, and I thought he did a pretty good job of working through that and just helping us.”

Nearly a month after the end of the Islanders’ season, the lack of any announcement regarding the futures of Lambert and general manager Lou Lamoriello is indicative both likely will be back for next season. It would be imprudent, though not implausible, to make a change while the rest of the league’s hiring cycle is already well underway.

Lambert’s inaugural run as an NHL coach, during which the Islanders finished 41-31-9 before they lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Hurricanes, was the sort of mixed bag that warrants another year, but doesn’t quite inspire enthusiasm about it.

Head Coach of the New York Islanders Lane Lambert
NHLI via Getty Images

There are a number of issues that must be addressed:

  •  Bo Horvat’s lack of production. He scored seven goals in 30 games and had a quiet postseason after the Islanders acquired him from the Canucks in late January.
  •  Noah Dobson’s confidence and production stalled after a breakout 2021-22.
  •  The awful power play, which was perhaps the Islanders’ single biggest issue for most of the season. The power play, which was the responsibility of assistant coach John MacLean, could end up being cause to change the assistant coaching staff, but the ultimate responsibility still falls on Lambert.

It’s also safe to call Lambert scratching veteran Josh Bailey in the sixth game of the season — ensuring that he would play his 1,000th game as an Islander on the road instead of at home against the Rangers — a massive unforced error. It likely alienated Bailey, an alternate captain, and threatened to lose the room in the opening weeks of the season.

“It’s rather telling getting scratched four or five games into the year before my 1,000th game to where we ended up at the end of the season,” Bailey, who sat in the press box for all six playoff games, said on breakup day. “I think it makes a lot more sense now.”

On the other side of the coin, it’s hard to argue with how the Islanders played in the second half of the season. They got into the playoffs thanks to a 17-9-4 run after the All-Star break, mostly without the injured Mathew Barzal. Lambert’s adaptability had a lot to do with that.

After Lambert preached being aggressive and playing a more open game early in the season, the Islanders started to play the same sort of defense-oriented game they had successfully used under Barry Trotz.

Lambert gets credit for making changes on the fly that addressed what wasn’t working and helped the Islanders claw back into the postseason despite missing Barzal, one of their best players.

Lambert also did a good job developing the likes of Hudson Fasching and Sebastian Aho — two players who became everyday contributors for the first time this season — as well as integrating into the lineup Alexander Romanov and Pierre Engvall, who became keys for the Islanders after they came over in trades.

The penalty kill also operated at a high rate all year, nearly well enough to cancel out the power play’s issues.

That, more than likely, will add up to another season for Lambert.

“Lane, I thought, did a phenomenal job,” captain Anders Lee said. “We had a lot of different swings throughout the season, a lot of things that we had to handle. He got us to a place where we were playing some of our better hockey down the stretch to put ourselves in [the playoffs] and gave us an opportunity.”

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