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EAST MEADOW, N.Y. – The day after the New York Islanders fired head coach Jack Capuano the magic number was 40. Whether it was interim head coach Doug Weight, defenseman Travis Hamonic or captain John Tavares, the number 40 was brought up in their responses to questions about how the change behind the bench will affect the team going forward.
There are 40 games left in the Islanders season. They sit dead last in the Eastern Conference. They’re 17 points behind the third-place Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division, so any playoff dreams will need to come via a wild card spot, which they’re eight points out of.
The Islanders have some games in-hand on teams ahead of them, but those are only good if you can win them, and the team has done more losing than winning this season. Still, the message after Weight’s first day taking the reins was that there’s plenty of time for them to drain the water out of the sinking ship.
“There’s still a lot of season left. There’s still a lot of time, 40-plus games. That’s a lot of time to make a lot of noise,” said Hamonic, who’s currently week-to-week with a lower-body injury. “We feel as a group obviously we’re not where we should be. We have a standard as to how we should be playing and where our levels should be at. The last couple of years we’ve started to work towards that. This year it hasn’t been up to standard and we have a lot to prove as a group and we have half the season to make some noise.”
Said Weight: “It’s not like there’s 20 games left and we have to win 19 of them.”
Weight had two conversations Tuesday night after the news broke. One was with Capuano and the other with another NHL head coach who told him to just be himself in his new role. There won’t be drastic changes with a new bench boss, but he will tweak some things and pull methods from some of the men who coached him during his career like Ron Low, Joel Quenneville and Roger Neilson.
He’d also like for his players to playing less in their own zone, which is kind of key if you want to start winning again.
Islanders GM Garth Snow said that the team will begin a search for a head coach, but it isn’t known whether there will be a replacement named during the season or the organization will wait until the summer to make a decision. Either way, Weight isn’t looking at this opportunity as an audition.
“I’m going to give everything I have, whether it’s five games or 40 games,” he said. “If it turns into 10 years, well, geez, we’ll talk in 10 years, that’s great. I owe it to our ownership, our organization, our fans and most important, these players and the coaches I work with. I’m going to give it my all. I believe in myself, but I’m not looking at it as that, I’m trying to win tomorrow night. All I want to do is help these guys and these coaches and these players get in a position in March that these games are meaningful and we’ve got that feeling going down our arms, that tingle, that we’re in the hunt. Like I said, eight points, we have a lot of games in-hand on some teams and we’ve got some teams we’ve got play head-to-head that we’ve got to win.”
Weight is confident he can lead the charge to turn things around and that begins Thursday night at the start of a six-game homestand that will extend through the All-Star Break. You look at the Islanders roster and there are a number of players having disappointing seasons offensively, and that will be priority number one as the second half gets going.
For now, Weight isn’t looking too far down the line.
“Do I want this job? I do right now, yeah, and that doesn’t mean I don’t want it later, but it’s gotta be one game at a time for me right now to help this team,” he said.
If their recent play is any indication, tweaks and better production from top players may be only what Weight needs to at least get his team moving in the right direction. The Islanders have won two of their last three games and ended 2016 winning four out of five before starting 2017 with a three-game losing streak. There’s no time for the players to sit around and wait for Snow to make a trade to better the roster, the points need to be grabbed beginning Thursday night.
“There’s been some positive signs of late, I think, there’s been some better play,” said Tavares. “It’s just that consistency. I think that’s just what we have to find, is understanding bringing that on a consistent basis, day after day, game after game. We’ve seen some really good stretches of it, some really good games from it, but to be a successful team, especially with our division and our conference, you’ve got to bring it every night.”
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