SUNRISE, Fla. — The Islanders had a can’t-happen-again moment this past week. Again.
Lane Lambert has sternly bemoaned the Islanders' propensity for taking bad penalties, with the caveat that they must be avoided. Yet there was Simon Holmstrom lazily placing his stick near Jack Hughes’ skates, prompting a tripping call with Mathew Barzal already in the box after taking a power play-negating hooking penalty.
It led to the Devils scoring a four-on-three power-play goal as they rallied from two goals down in the third period to beat the Islanders, 5-4, on Tuesday night at Prudential Center.
“I know I’m not supposed to take penalties,” Holmstrom said. “It’s not a super-difficult situation. I thought he kind of stepped on my stick. At the same time, I can’t have my stick there.”
Lambert can say the Islanders can’t take those penalties, but it’s how the coach eliminates the problem that’s important.
If he can.
“I’m a big believer that it’s on the player,” said defenseman Scott Mayfield, who took five minor penalties through his first 15 games. “I love the coaches, but we’re the ones out there playing the game.”
Coaches can threaten playing time. They can yell about a player’s mistake or gently explain the error. They can use video to reinforce their intended lesson.
But Lambert is no different from other NHL coaches in finding it tough to eliminate careless penalties.
Newsday directly asked Lambert this past week the best method for reinforcing his verbal message. Not surprisingly, Lambert, an acolyte of president/general manager Lou Lamoriello’s school of divulging as little information as possible, did not dissect his coaching technique.
“It’s a great question,” Lambert said. “It’s not for lack of effort necessarily on these penalties. Guys are trying to do the right thing. But we have to have more control over our sticks. You can’t get them tangled up in feet. They’ve got to be stick on puck. We have to be more cognizant of where our stick is. The high-sticking penalties, the tripping penalties, these things have to stop.”
Of the Islanders’ 185 penalty minutes through their first 22 games, there had been 16 tripping penalties, 11 slashing calls, 10 hooking infractions and five high-sticking penalties, including one double-minor.
Again, however, Lambert is far from the only NHL coach dealing with this frustration.
The Islanders beat the Hurricanes, 5-4, in overtime on Thursday night. Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour, who won the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top bench boss in 2021, has been trying to figure out how to instill some discipline into right wing Andrei Svechnikov’s game. Svechnikov had 18 penalty minutes in his first 13 games.
“We talk about it the next day and in meetings. It’s definitely mentioned,” Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei said. “We’ve had the same issue here with stick penalties.
“I love the way Rod goes about it. He holds guys accountable. If someone is doing it more than not, he’ll mention it in front of the team. He’s not trying to embarrass you. He’s just trying to get the point across.”
No doubt, the way Lambert handles it is similar, if not identical.
But the things that can’t happen have happened again.
Josh Bailey's surprise outcome
Josh Bailey, still an unrestricted free agent after attending training camp with the Senators on a professional tryout offer, was in a suit and watching from a suite as former teammate Cal Clutterbuck reached 1,000 games at UBS Arena on Nov. 22.
Whether or not Bailey, third on the Islanders’ all-time list with 1,057 games, plays again in the NHL is up for debate. He has made no pronouncements yet on his future. But Senators defenseman Travis Hamonic, an Islanders teammate from 2010-17, saw enough in training camp to be convinced that Bailey still can help a team.
“I’ll leave that to Bails to make those decisions,” Hamonic said. “He definitely looked like he could still play. Sometimes you see guys come in on tryouts and you can say, ‘OK, it’s probably it. It’s probably time.’ That wasn’t the case at all. He came in and was driving plays, making plays. I think he still has a lot to offer an organization. Bails has played a long time and you get to a point where it’s family decisions. But he definitely can still play, in my opinion.”
Bailey, 34, had a goal and five assists in six preseason games for the Senators, wearing an “A” as alternate captain in his final one. The Islanders traded him to Chicago in the offseason and Chicago promptly bought out the final season of his six-year, $30 million deal to make him a UFA.
“I was pretty surprised it didn’t work out,” Hamonic said. “He made a pretty good mark on a lot of guys in a short period of time. It was kind of weird how it didn’t feel like a normal PTO thing.”
From the pod
Episode 174 of Island Ice, Newsday’s Islanders podcast, featured an interview with defenseman Mike Reilly, claimed off waivers from the Panthers last week. Reilly discussed the support he got from his new teammates after his turnover led to a Devils goal in his Islanders debut.
“The play can’t happen,” Reilly said. “The guys were good, kind of picking me up a little bit, like, ‘Hey, it’s a mistake.’ ”