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Shakeup appears to be only way to save stale Islanders season

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Islanders column
New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) reacts as the Washington Capitals celebrate a goal by Tom Wilson during the second period of an NHL hockey game Monday, Jan. 16, 2023, in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The time for the New York Islanders to make a move and shake things up was yesterday.

Not in the literal sense, though a demoralizing loss to the Washington Capitals in which they blew a 3-0 lead would certainly provide the grounds to commence such long overdue changes. 

The Islanders have lost four of their last five games as they continue sinking in the uber-competitive Metropolitan Division that now sees them sitting in sixth place out of eight teams — all while seemingly finding new ways to lose. 

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Over their last nine games (3-4-2), the Islanders have scored two or fewer goals seven times. When they finally did show some signs of attacking life with two goals in the first period on Monday on their way to a 3-0 lead midway through the second period, they coughed up the advantage before losing in overtime to a Capitals team they were chasing in the division standings. 

As has been the narrative surrounding this team for the better part of the last 20 years, they need a legitimate, lethal scoring option to supplement an offense that simply doesn’t (and hasn’t) had the horses to win games on its own.

That’s an indictment of team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, who has kept a majority of the roster the same over the last four seasons while dealing away core pieces like forward Jordan Eberle along with defensemen Nick Leddy and Devon Toews that has ultimately hurt the team much more than the minimal salary cap space that it freed up. 

So the decision to part ways with head coach Barry Trotz — the second-most successful bench boss in franchise history behind Al Arbour after leading the Islanders to two consecutive Stanley Cup semifinals — was all the more peculiar when his protegee in Lane Lambert instituted a more offensively-aggressive system supplemented by the defense despite not having the horses to post gaudy attacking numbers. 

Through 45 games this season, the Islanders rank 23rd in the NHL with 3.02 goals scored per game. Their power-play conversion rate of 17.83% is sixth-worst after a particularly miserable stretch in which they are currently 3-for-their-last-45.

Brock Nelson hasn’t scored in his last 13 games. Anders Lee has two in his last nine. Josh Bailey hasn’t scored in nine games. Anthony Beauvillier has one in his last 10. Oliver Wahlstrom and Kyle Palmieri are injured. 

Things appear to have gone stale on Long Island, which is also evident in the way opponents appear to be taking liberties with them. Top defenseman Adam Pelech has been sidelined since Dec. 6 after Robert Bortuzzo of the St. Louis Blues knocked him head-first into the boards. Simon Holmstrom could have suffered a season-ending injury when he took a knee-to-knee hit by Florida Panthers forward Sam Bennett just before Christmas. Oliver Wahlstrom is out for the foreseeable future after he was cross-checked high and into the boards by Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph on Dec. 27. 

On Monday night, Jean-Gabriel Pageau was run into the boards by a borderline hit from Capitals legend Alex Ovechkin early in the second period of a 3-0 game that tilted the scales in Washington’s favor and sparked their comeback.

None of those opponents were made to answer for those hits and in the case of Tuesday’s game against the Capitals, sapped the Islanders dry.

It’s abundantly clear that Lamoriello is at a crossroads here. Either he has to spring to action quickly to make a move — a trade, a benching, a buyout — to show his Islanders that he still believes they can compete for the playoffs or he stands pat and invites the seemingly-increasing prospect of sweeping changes to the organization that could await this offseason. 

The clock is ticking.

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For more on the Islanders, visit AMNY.com

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