One of Lou Lamoriello’s favorite sayings is that, when there’s time to use, use it.
The Islanders president and general manager certainly heeded his own words heading into Monday’s NHL trade deadline. Others around the league were sure Lamoriello’s only option was to be a seller with the Islanders’ playoff chances hovering closer to none than slim.
But Lamoriello, who told Newsday and one other media outlet at the start of the month he still believes in his core group of players and he was vacillating on his trade-deadline approach, didn’t start moving pieces early.
The Islanders, finally fully healthy from both injuries and COVID-19 and playing games regularly rather than sitting through long stretches of inactivity, have started to look like the team that made back-to-back trips to the NHL semifinals the last two seasons in their best stretch of hockey this season.
They still aren’t the fastest and that’s a problem against teams with elite speed like the NHL-best Avalanche. But the Islanders are wearing down teams with a balanced attack and some great goaltending and, surely, there are teams around the NHL thrilled the Islanders won’t be a threat in the postseason.
But here’s the issue that Lamoriello must address: Having a team built for the playoffs — a physical, structured team that can forecheck an opponent into exhaustion over the course of a seven-game series — is useless if the team doesn’t qualify.
Which is why this offseason will likely be Lamoriello’s most important since joining the organization in 2018 and much more of an opportunity for the franchise than Monday’s trade deadline.
The Islanders, who entered this season with Stanley Cup-or-bust expectations, are still built to win now. But this season has shown they are a rung or two below the NHL’s best.
They must become a better puck-moving team. They must get younger. They must be able to add some scoring help without subtracting from their defensive structure.
Saying the Islanders must do all this is one thing. Lamoriello being able to accomplish it is the harder task, especially without a bevy of prospects expected to come charging to the rescue from their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.
First, Lamoriello must assess whether this season was an aberration, the result of unfortunate circumstances that kept the Islanders from playing consistent hockey until five months into the season. Or whether the first five months was enough of a window into the team’s decline to make as many impactful changes as possible before next season.
Lamoriello still has time to make these assessments. There’s no doubt Lamoriello will use all the available time he can before acting.
The only thing Lamoriello can’t do is be wrong on his next moves.
Isles-Rangers: A fun one
The Islanders’ 2-1 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, which included a brilliant goalie duel between longtime Russian friends and former KHL rivals Ilya Sorokin and the Blueshirts’ Igor Shesterkin, was certainly one of the more memorable games this season.
Coach Barry Trotz, who preaches every two points are crucial, was asked whether it was the Islanders’ most satisfying win of the season.
"I don’t know," Trotz said. "There’s different ones for different reasons. But it was good because of all the elements. It was two teams going nose-to-nose. Great goaltending. Great atmosphere. I’m going to say it was the most fun game of the year."
Cal's winning shift
No statistic made the NHL scoresheet, bBut Cal Clutterbuck had one of the game’s most effective shifts in Thursday night’s 2-1 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The Islanders were nursing a one-goal lead as the Rangers’ skated six-on-five with goalie Igor Shesterkin pulled for an extra skater.
Clutterbuck, in a 72-second shift that lasted until 19:00 of the third period, was able to clear the puck from the defensive zone, chase it down ice and hem the Rangers in their zone pretty much single-handedly to take valuable time off the clock.
"Those are the shifts that you love to see," Anders Lee said. "That’s an all-out effort and he’s out by himself. A couple of guys changed behind him and he’s down in the other end just grinding it out."
Coach Barry Trotz told his team after the game, "That’s how you win, right there."
"He was out of gas," Trotz said. "He stayed in it. He battled through it."
Clutterbuck, 34, has been an Islander since 2013 but is an impending unrestricted free agent. The Islanders will miss him if he departs.
Ilya Sorokin is one shutout away from tying the Islanders’ franchise record for most in a season. Here are the leaders:
7 – Chico Resch (1975-76); Semyon Varlamov (2020-21, 56-game season)
6 – Jaroslav Halak (2014-15); Robin Lehner (2018-19); Ilya Sorokin (2021-22)
5 – Thomas Greiss (2018-19); Ron Hextall (1993-94); Rick DiPietro (2003-04 and 2006-07); Tommy Salo (1996-97 and 1998-99)