It would have been understandable if you looked at the Islanders’ upcoming schedule last week with a feeling of dread.
They had lost three straight games to the New Jersey Devils before getting swept in a quick Florida trip by the Lightning and Panthers to drop to 2-4-0 on the young season —all while the crosstown-rival Rangers, last year’s Metropolitan Division-winning Carolina Hurricanes, and the defending Stanley Cup-champion Colorado Avalanche waited in the wings.
“We’re close but at the same time, we’ve got to lock it down here soon,” first-year head coach Lane Lambert said at the time as his team faced the prospect of digging another alarmingly deep hole in the win-loss column as it did early last year amidst a 13-game season-opening road trip.
Not only did the Islanders stay afloat this past week, but they thrived.
They shut out the Rangers 3-0 on Wednesday behind two Kyle Palmieri goals and 41 saves by Ilya Sorokin.
They thumped the Hurricanes 6-2 on Friday down in Raleigh behind two Brock Nelson goals and multi-point nights from Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier.
And on Saturday night, after hustling back up to Long Island, they took down the Avalanche and thrilling fashion by reeling off five unanswered goals — four of them in the third period ― to win their third straight 5-4.
“We have a lot of character,” Lambert said. “They’ve been through a lot in different situations. We’re just continuing to build. It’s good. It’s a good character builder for us, but I thought the last stretch of the games — even in Florida — I thought we played well. I’m glad to see them get rewarded for it.”
Against three of the most dangerous offensive teams in the league, the Islanders yielded just six goals — which has been the more familiar aspect of a team whose return to prominence four years ago was predicated on defense. It was the attack, once again, that is showing an abundance of promise unseen during the Barry Trotz era.
Through nine games this season, the Islanders have scored five or more goals four times, including each of their last two games against the Hurricanes and Avalanche.
Last season, they potted five or more just 10 times in 82 games.
“I think we’ve done a really good job of playing on our toes and continuing to play on our toes even when the score is tied or even when we’re a goal ahead,” Lambert said. “We’ve kept coming at teams… We have to continue to do that.”
This is what the Islanders’ offense is supposed to look like under Lambert’s new system. Support from the defense has been paying dividends as blueliners have accounted for nine of their 33 goals this season. No other team in the NHL has that many goals from defensemen.
“They’re doing a great job. They’re doing a great job of jumping in at the right time,” Lambert said. “We’re trying to get them involved but we don’t want to have too much risk in our game. It’s not just a run-and-gun type situation. They’ve done a really good job of recognizing those moments and finishing.”
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