One of Lane Lambert’s top priorities as the Islanders’ new coach is likely to quickly settle on complementary linemates for Mathew Barzal, spur more offensive production from the slick-skating playmaker and, quite possibly, convince the impending restricted free agent that his best long-term future is with the team.
Barzal, 24, who is entering the final season of a three-year, $21 million deal, had only 15 goals and 44 assists in 73 games this season, his lowest point total in an 82-game schedule and a long way from his 22 goals and 63 assists as a rookie under Doug Weight in 2017-18.
Barzal, at times, seemed uncomfortable reconciling his offensive instincts with the defensive responsibilities Barry Trotz preached in his four seasons as Islanders coach. Defensive play will be vitally important to Lambert as well.
“He is a key, key piece to the puzzle,” Lambert said. “He has grown in so many different areas since his first year.
“His point production, has it been down a little bit? Yes. But there’s other areas of the game that we’ve required and asked him to do and improve upon. It will be a continual process. I’m looking forward to working with him in his developing, and with every player on the team.”
How Lambert transitions in his relationships with the Islanders’ players as he goes from associate to head coach will be fascinating. Often, assistant coaches can be much more buddy-buddy with the players.
“That has to be given a lot of thought,” president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said. “I have no question whatsoever in my observation of Lane and his interaction with the players. No concern from here, from the eyes of the players or anyone, including the assistant coaches.”
Lambert called it a “real tremendous advantage” to already know the players as he takes his first NHL head-coaching job.