The summer beard is gone, so the clean-shaven Lane Lambert is very much back in hockey mode as he approaches his second season as Islanders coach. One issue definitely will carry over from the end of his first season: Does slick-skating Mathew Barzal play center or wing, and will he remain Bo Horvat’s linemate?
“I think there’s a little bit of experimentation, but there’s been a long summer to think about it,” Lambert said on Monday before the team’s charity golf outing at Glen Oaks Club in Old Westbury, his first public comments since the Hurricanes eliminated the Islanders in Game 6 of their first-round series on April 28.
“We’ll move things around a little bit in training camp. But there’s a pretty good indication of what we’re going to do.”
And that’s likely to keep the two top-line centers — both in the first season of eight-year deals — together to start.
“Talking to Lane a little bit, we’re both going to have the freedom to play instinctively,” Barzal said. “[Horvat] is a beast in the circle, so he’ll take a lot of faceoffs. I’m sure if there’s a situation where I’m in the middle and he’s on the wall, we’ll just roll with it. We’re both smart enough to adjust on the fly.”
The two were developing chemistry in their six-plus regular-season games together as Barzal moved to right wing after Horvat was acquired from the Canucks on Jan. 30. Horvat’s production — and the Islanders’ power play — dipped precipitously after Barzal suffered a knee injury in Boston on Feb. 18.
Barzal did return for the playoffs, notching two goals in the six games after compiling 14 goals and 37 assists in 58 regular-season games. Horvat finished with seven goals and nine assists in 30 games after the trade — he had 31 goals and 23 assists in 49 games for the Canucks — and added a goal and an assist against the Hurricanes.
“I’m not sure what the plan is here but hopefully we can rekindle what we had,” said Horvat, who had three goals and an assist while playing with Barzal before his injury. “It was a lot of fun to play with him when he was healthy. It was tough for him and I, especially him, coming back in the playoff series. I’m just looking forward to both of us getting a training camp under our belt and hit the ground running.”
Horvat and Barzal skated plenty with Anders Lee last season. One possibility for this season could be Pierre Engvall, who was acquired from the Maple Leafs on Feb. 28 and signed a seven-year deal this offseason. Engvall may be the one Islanders forward with speed to match Barzal.
“He flies,” Barzal said. “Whether or not he’s playing with us this year, I would personally love to give it a try. He flies down the wing. I think there could be something there.”
Notes & quotes: Lambert said he plans to oversee both the power play and the penalty kill “a little bit more” this season. Assistant coach John MacLean will continue to work with the forwards and assistant coach Doug Houda will supervise the defensemen . . . Players will report for training camp on Wednesday, with the first on-ice session on Thursday. Lambert said about 60 players will start training camp.