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Islanders lacking ‘individual awareness’ as Lane Lambert’s frustration builds

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Islanders Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs, center Calle Jarnkrok (19) scores against the New York Islanders during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Toronto on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Of the five goals allowed by the New York Islanders in their loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, three of them came on breakaway opportunities — highlighting another calamitous evening for head coach Lane Lambert’s blue line. 

“Situational awareness, individual awareness. That’s it,” Lambert said of what led to easy goals for  John Tavares, Calle Jarnkrok, and Auston Mathews. “Three of their goals, [a power-play goal], a bad change, a couple guys getting in behind us — that can’t happen. That’s unacceptable.”

“We let people get in behind us. They’re a fast team, they’re a rush team… we knew that… and we didn’t manage that.”

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An inability to take care of the puck also reared its ugly head back into the Islanders’ ranks, too, when defenseman Scott Mayfield opted not to use the left boards for an easy clear of the zone and instead telegraphed a pass right back to William Nylander, who put Toronto up 4-2 seconds later with a wrister that beat goalie Ilya Sorokin.

“For whatever reason, our details and awareness cost us tonight,” Lambert said. “We just absolutely have to get past that and clean it up.”

Frustration continues to grow for Lambert, whose team is mired in a miserable stretch that has featured nine losses in their last 10 games. Six of those games has seen the Islanders allow at least four goals — an almost unfathomable stretch for a team that had been predicated on defense under former head coach Barry Trotz for so long. 

Of their first 49 games this season, the Islanders have allowed four or more goals 18 times. Compare that to two seasons ago when most of this very same roster was heading to its second consecutive Stanley Cup semifinal, they allowed four or more goals just 14 times in 82 games. 

Such is life under Lambert’s new system that has tried to use the defense as a support system for a sporadic and, frankly, unreliable offense. 

It hasn’t worked. 

The Islanders have scored just one goal in four of their last 10 and two in another five of them. They haven’t scored more than three goals in a game since a 6-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 3. 

Lambert’s men are running out of time to figure this out. The Islanders currently sit three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, but they’ve played just 46 games compared to the Islanders’ 49 — so that gap is expected to increase when the schedule evens out.

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