Head coach Lane Lambert (L) and assistant coach John MacLean...

Head coach Lane Lambert (L) and assistant coach John MacLean look on during the first period against the St. Louis Blues at UBS Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022 in Elmont. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Standing outside the Prudential Center visitors’ dressing room late Friday afternoon, Lane Lambert was explaining the concept of risk versus reward.

The coach of the Islanders had been posed a question about Alexander Romanov, specifically his thoughts on how the defenseman was balancing when to throw a thunderous hit and when to pull back.

“Stay within the structure,” Lambert said. “If the opportunity is there, you can take it, but not at a [high] risk value.”

He was talking about Romanov, but Lambert could have been referring to his team as a whole. That’s because his philosophy could be called calculated aggressiveness.

In his first full season as the head coach — he served as an interim coach for three games during the 2021-22 season while then-coach Barry Trotz was away from the team — Lambert has modified his predecessor’s system. The structure and coverages are the same in the defensive zone, but he requires his players to pressure the puck. Think of it as a basketball team employing a half-court defense with the twist that defenders press ballhandlers once they cross midcourt.

The rationale behind the tweak is that, theoretically, the Islanders would remain stingy defensively and the pressure should lead to more offensive opportunities. And this season, the concept has worked reasonably well.

After Friday night’s wild 6-4 win over the Devils and entering Saturday’s matchup against the Hurricanes, the Islanders had a 17-11-0 record. That was good for fourth in the Metropolitan Division, sixth in the Eastern Conference and ninth in the NHL.

Defensively, the Islanders’ 77 goals allowed was tied for eighth best in the NHL and their average of 2.75 goals allowed per game was sixth best. They had scored 86 goals, tied for eighth in the league, and their average of 3.19 goals scored per game ranked 12th.

And it’s not a matter of simply being opportunistic. The Islanders are generating shots — 32.1 per game, to be precise.

“We’re trying to take advantage of some more shots, more opportunities,” Brock Nelson said after the win over the Devils, a game in which they finished with 32 shots on goal on 61 attempts.

Those opportunities included Casey Cizikas’ goal 3:31 into the second period and Cal Clutterbuck’s goal one minute into the third.

On Cizikas’ goal, the sequence began with Scott Mayfield deflecting a puck away from Semyon Varlamov. It ended up on Clutterbuck’s stick and a rush into the offensive zone. Clutterbuck chipped the puck to Matt Martin, who found an uncovered Cizikas in the low slot for a one-timer that Vitek Vanecek had no chance to stop.

Whereas Cizikas’ goal was a counterattack off of a turnover leading to a rush, Clutterbuck’s was an example of the forecheck creating an opportunity in the offensive zone.

Clutterbuck hit Devils defenseman Brendan Smith behind the Devils’ net forcing a turnover that Martin chipped in behind the goal. John Marino corralled the puck, but under pressure from Cizikas, he threw a pass that Dawson Mercer could not control, and Clutterbuck fired a quick snap shot past Akira Schmid to extend the lead to 6-2.

“I thought we did a lot of really good things,” Lambert said before analyzing the goals by Cizikas and Clutterbuck.

“We were going north with the puck,” Lambert said. “Casey’s goal was a great play. Middle-lane drive by Marty and a good play by Cal. And then even Cal’s goal to start the third period, the puck was north and we went in on the forecheck, we got the puck back. So I like the fact we’re going north and staying connected as a group.”

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