Fans at UBS Arena chanted “Fire Lane Lambert!” as the clock wound down on the New York Islanders’ fourth straight loss Saturday night.
But about 15 hours later and 2,500 miles across the continent, the Edmonton Oilers were the ones to make a coaching change just in time for the Islanders to begin their potentially season-defining road trip.
Kris Knoblauch will preside over the Oilers’ bench in his NHL head-coaching debut Monday night, when Edmonton hosts the Islanders in a battle of teams mired in early-season skids.
Both teams were off Sunday after playing Saturday. The Oilers snapped a four-game losing streak in Jay Woodcroft’s final game by beating the host Seattle Kraken 4-1, while the Islanders’ struggles continued with a 4-1 loss to the visiting Washington Capitals.
The win wasn’t enough to spare Woodcroft, who was fired along with assistant coach Dave Manson with the Oilers off to a 3-9-1 start. Edmonton replaced Mason with Paul Coffey, a Hockey Hall of Famer and franchise icon.
The Oilers’ seven points are the second-fewest in the NHL ahead of only the San Jose Sharks, whose 3-2 win over Edmonton on Thursday night was the final straw for general manager Ken Holland and CEO of hockey operations Jeff Jackson.
“Kept hoping we were going to win a game, kept hoping we were going to win a game,” Holland said. “Really, after we lost the game to San Jose on Thursday night, Jeff and I started to talk really seriously about, ‘Should we consider making a coaching change?’ And obviously made a decision to make that decision.”
Knoblauch was in the midst of his fifth season coaching the Hartford Wolf Pack, the New York Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate in Connecticut. The 45-year-old coached current Oilers star Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League from the 2012-13 through 2014-15 seasons.
McDavid won his third Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player last season, when he led the league with 64 goals and 89 assists as the Oilers reached the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
McDavid has just two goals and eight assists this season for the Oilers, who had an NHL-best 325 goals last year but had 35 goals in their first 13 games this season, the fifth-fewest in the league entering Sunday.
“I see a very talented team underperforming — obviously, that’s why I’m here,” Knoblauch said. “I’m trying to build something and we can obviously (hope to) have the success that was anticipated at the beginning of the year.”
With four playoff berths in the past five years and consecutive trips to the NHL semifinals in 2020 and 2021, the Islanders have built their steadiest contender since the dynastic ‘80s.
But New York — which returned nine players 30 years of age or older from a team that fell to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last season — has struggled to generate offense and finish games this season.
The Islanders’ 32 goals are ahead of only the Capitals and Sharks in the NHL. New York has also been outscored 20-9 after the second period.
The Islanders, playing their final home game Saturday before a four-game Western swing, kept the Capitals scoreless in the third until Alex Ovechkin’s empty-netter with three seconds left. But the derisive chants aimed at Lambert, the second-year head coach, began raining down as New York never built a serious scoring threat in the final period despite outshooting Washington 16-6.
“It’s tough — it’s frustrating,” Islanders center Brock Nelson said. “Eighty-two games, you’re going to find yourself in tough spots and you’ve got to find a way to get through it. The only thing we can do is stick together and find a way to win a hockey game.”
–Field Level Media