This past weekend, New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert rotated in a few players, while benching a few veterans as he tried to find any way to spark his hockey club. The Islanders ended up losing both games of their Floridian back-to-back as the Islanders staples did not get a jolt from the lineup insertions.
On Saturday night, a 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, 28-year-old Nikita Soshnikov drew into the lineup in place of 15-year veteran Josh Bailey, playing alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Oliver Wahlstrom.
Lambert thought that his speed would provide a jolt against the Bolts, but that decision essentially blew up in his face because the Russian forward underperformed and made a critical mistake.
That was not on Lane Lambert, as against a fast Lightning team, he was doing what he could to add speed to the lineup–the player just did not take advantage.
“Oh, we just needed to get a spark, and it was a good opportunity to put Soshnikov in the lineup,” Lambert said following the game.
On Sunday is where things got interesting.
The speedy Anthony Beauvilier, who had scored against the Lightning the night before, was a healthy scratch against the Florida Panthers. Instead, Ross Johnston drew into the lineup, alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Oliver Wahlstrom.
Lambert stated this as the reason for going with Johnston against the Panthers.
“Physical game. Physical player.”
Both moves did not pan out.
Why didn’t 24-year-old Kieffer Bellows, who performed well during training camp and even earned a start in the season opener, get a chance this weekend?
Lane Lambert shared he had done nothing wrong to not play again when I asked him following Sunday’s loss.
So what was the reason? Because there always is a reason.
Kieffer Bellows’ strength is his shot, and something he has added to his game has been his physicality. Something he does not have is his speed, and when you look at the moves Lambert made this weekend, one could say Bellows did not bring enough speed to provide the spark for Saturday hence the move to go with Soshnikov, and if Lambert wanted physicality on Sunday, he went with the more physical player.
What does that mean for Kieffer Bellows going forward?
It means that Kieffer Bellows needs to get faster and increase his physicality, without losing his shot, in order to surpass Soshnikov and Johnston on the totem pole.
It’s almost a situation like we saw with former fifth overall pick, Michale Dal Colle, who was drafted as a goal scorer, but because of his struggles to become an everyday NHLer based on his shot, he turned to being a physical, forechecking forward.
Now, Bellows provides much more upside because he has a much stronger shot, but he has to be more well-rounded, it seems, to get a chance.
With how Soshnikov and Johnston struggled this past weekend, Bellows should get a chance to prove to Lambert that he deserves to be in the lineup.
And when he does get that chance, Kieffer Bellows needs to find a way to take advantage of his minutes because Lane Lambert is holding everyone accountable, whether you have two years of NHL experience or are a 15-year veteran.
This summer, Bellows received a pay raise following a solid end to his 2021-22 season. The confidence was brewing on and off the ice. Bellows had seemingly surpassed young sniper Oliver Wahlstrom on the totem pole, and under first-year head coach Lane Lambert, he had the chance to show the organization that he deserved a more significant role in 2022-23.
“I mean, I view myself as being a regular in a lineup,” Bellows said after he inked a one-year, $1.2 million deal back in late August. “That’s what I want to be. I want to be making a significant impact from day one. That’s what I plan to do.
“I plan to be good defensively but also be a big offensive player, use my shot, and score some goals for this team.”
Through training camp, Kieffer Bellows received praise from Lane Lambert and even cracked the opening night lineup in a 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers.
Bellows played just 7:16 minutes in the defeat, with only 16 seconds of ice time in the third period. He was on the ice for the first Florida Panthers goal, as his giveaway in the defensive zone led directly to the opening tally.
After the game, Lambert said that the reason Bellows did not play much after the first period, just 2:16 minutes in the second, was not about his play. The issue was that Bellows did not play on either the power-play units or the special teams.
Special Team Situation Negatively Affected Playing Time For Bellows, Other Islanders
Oliver Wahlstrom came into the lineup in place of Bellows for game two of the NHL season, and he played well, scoring a breakaway goal in the 7-1 routing of the Anaheim Ducks. Then a few nights later, Wahlstrom stayed in the lineup and scored a pair in the 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks.
Bellows showcased last season that he can play a physical style, a pesty style. No, not to the level of Florida Panthers superstar Matthew Tkachuk, but compared to Ross Johnston, Bellows is more of a scoring threat, and the Islanders need scoring.
In 2021-22, Bellows averaged 1.75 shots per game, along with 2.29 hits per game.
Both Ross Johnston and Nikita Soshnikov did not take advantage of their chances, but when will Kieffer Bellows get a true chance this season?
It’s not likely to come against the New York Rangers, as we should see the full NHL group in action with no questionable scratches. There is no such thing as a must-win game so early in the season, but if the Islanders need Lane Lambert to make a roster move to spark them ahead of a contest against their arch-rivals, this team is in a world of trouble.
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