Luckily for the Islanders, there’s still two weeks and four preseason games to go until the regular-season opener.
Because plenty of improvement is needed.
“Well, we’ve got work to do,” new coach Lane Lambert said after Tuesday night’s 4-1 loss to the Devils at Prudential Center. “We’ll continue to build and work and we’ll be better.”
Wednesday was a day of player evaluation for the Islanders’ brass with the first cuts to the 59-man training camp roster expected soon. The team resumes practicing on Thursday and the next preseason game is on Sunday night against the Flyers at UBS Arena.
The regular-season opener is Oct. 13 against the Panthers at UBS Arena.
“There’s a lot more reinforcement needed, there’s no question,” said Lambert, who was promoted from associate coach to replace the fired Barry Trotz. “We do see some flashes. It’s just in spurts. That consistency is something that we’ve got to build towards.”
Tuesday’s performance was nearly a mirror image of Monday night’s 4-1 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in the preseason opener. Neither Semyon Varlamov nor Ilya Sorokin were particularly sharp in net, the offense looked disjointed and slow and there were plenty of gaps defensively.
But the separate rosters both nights — only Oliver Wahlstrom played in both games — were filled with prospects and players ticketed for the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. Not a minute of practice time yet in training camp has been spent on special teams’ work.
“I don’t think we’re so concerned about — I hate to say it — the outcome of preseason games to this point,” said Matt Martin, who dressed for Tuesday’s loss. “We want to play better and get our compete up. But once we have our structure and the new tweaks ironed out it will go a long way.”
While any team run by president and general manager Lou Lamoriello will be predicated around its defensive structure, Lambert has used the start of training camp to begin implementing some changes to the Islanders’ system.
But the installation is far from complete.
“We had three hard days of camp, more of a conditioning style thing,” Martin said. “We’ve gone over our structure and things a little bit but not to a great degree. Obviously, we need to up our compete a little bit. But I think that will also come once we kind of have our structure dialed in. Once it gets sloppy and guys start running around, the game can be a lot more challenging than it needs to be.”
The goalies will likely sharpen their performances with more game time and the defense should tighten once more veterans take the ice.
If there is a glaring concern so far, it’s the lack of offensive punch after finishing 24th in the NHL last season in scoring. The Islanders missed the playoffs for the first time since 2018 and then missed out on top free agents Johnny Gaudreau and Nazem Kadri.
“Everybody needs to get that game action,” Lambert said. “That’s what we’re going to find out in the next four games.”