EAST MEADOW, N.Y. (AP) Doug Weight knows it won’t be easy for the New York Islanders to get back in the playoff race, but the interim coach is preaching a simple approach in taking it one game at a time with half the season remaining.
Coming off their second straight 100-point season and the franchise’s first playoff series win in 23 years, the Islanders stumbled from the start of this season. Despite some brief stretches of good play, they sit last in the Eastern Conference at 17-17-8 and the inconsistency cost coach Jack Capuano his job on Tuesday.
”We have 40 games left,” Weight said Wednesday after the Islanders’ first practice since the coaching change. ”We believe in what we can do on the ice. It’s not like there’s just 20 games left and we have to win 19 of them.”
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The Islanders are just eight points out of the second wild-card spot in the East, and they have played fewer games than almost every team ahead of them.
Captain John Tavares said the team’s focus remains on ”trying to get better each and every day.”
”Certainly any time a coaching change is made, that sends a pretty strong message of how we haven’t played up to our standard,” he said. ”We just got to find some more consistency and build on some of the things Dougie is preaching and go from there. Just one game at a time, and try to get better.”
Weight spent the last three seasons of his playing career with the Islanders before retiring in 2011 and joining the team as an executive and coach. While he expects there will be some changes to the Islanders’ system, he doesn’t think they will be major.
”I’m certainly not going to reinvent the wheel,” Weight said. ”We’re going to tweak some things in certain systems. … We’re going to play the right way, we’re going to win games … We’re going to have a little more discipline in managing the puck in certain areas, making some decisions.”
The 45-year-old Weight said he isn’t concerned about having the ”interim” tag, choosing to simply focus on the task at hand.
”I’m going to give everything I have, whether it’s five games or 40 games or if it turns into 10 years,” he said.
Part of Weight’s task will be trying to get more from players such as newcomer Andrew Ladd, who has just eight goals and four assists in 41 games after signing a seven-year, $38.5 million deal last July. Ladd and fellow free-agent signee Jason Chimera were part of the offseason roster overhaul that saw longtime stars Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin sign elsewhere. The departed trio combined for 52 goals and 83 assists last season, while the two newcomers have totaled 16 goals and 12 assists so far.
Tavares, coming off a 70-point season, also struggled to jell with a rotating set of new linemates this season. However, he combined for five goals in two games last week, increasing his season total to 16 goals and 16 assists.
The Islanders also have played better of late, going 6-3-2 in their last 11 games under Capuano.
”You really feel that burden of him being the guy taking the fall with the way we’ve played,” Tavares said. ”It just hasn’t been good enough and it’s tough to see him go.”
Tavares said he learned about the coaching change during a phone call from GM Garth Snow shortly before the team sent out its news release Tuesday. The star center said he isn’t consulted on personnel changes and doesn’t want that sort of input.
”I don’t give an opinion on whether someone should be here or not,” Tavares said. ”I don’t think really that’s my job or what I’m expected to do. … It’s not something I think I have my hand in, nor do I really want to.”
With his contract set to expire after next season, Tavares declined to say whether any inconsistency in the coaching staff would affect his decision on his future with the team.
”We’ll worry about that big picture down the road,” he said.
Tempers flared during practice Wednesday as Ryan Strome and Calvin de Haan were involved in some pushing and shoving, with words exchanged between the two.
”Just in the heat of the moment, we’re doing a lot of battle drills, you know emotions get high,” Strome said. ”That’s where you want them. We’re trying hard, we’re trying to win. He’s a guy that cares, I’m a guy who cares and we’re trying to get better. When you put a bunch of grown men on the ice with weapons in our hands, that stuff is going to happen.”
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