Doug Weight is honest beyond the point of politeness, especially when it comes to his team.
So the Islanders head coach laid it all out pretty clearly in explaining why they have gone 6-11-2 over their past 19 games. That includes losing five-of-seven since Christmas and finding themselves outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference and on the periphery of relevance as they come out of their five-day bye week for a Garden match Saturday afternoon against the Rangers.
“I think you admire yourself a little bit too much,” Weight said after Friday’s late practice on Long Island, with his team having gone 15-7-2 to start the season and still ranked fourth in the league in averaging 3.33 goals per game. “I think we were getting goals from every angle, from every situation. And we were getting out of trouble by scoring six instead of different ways.”
Weight said he and his coaches have taken a little bit of a turn in their own philosophy, going back to the stern hand that he brought in when he took over for the fired Jack Capuano midway through last season and got them to within one point of a playoff spot. But Weight is still learning on the fly, and so he felt a shift was needed in his approach. It started with a 5-4 shootout win over the Devils this past Sunday in the final game before the break.
“The way we’re focusing in practice — we’re not letting things slide,” Weight said. “We all get comfortable and your voice can get old. We were talking as coaches, [saying], ‘I don’t care if my voice gets old.’ If it gets old in a year and a half and I’ve got to go, I’ve got to go. But you have to correct people, you have to show them their mistakes, whether it’s one-on-one, I’m going to do a lot more of that, whether it’s in front of their peers or on the ice.
“They don’t do a drill right, they’re going to hear about it. If they’re not doing things right in the game, they’re going to sit. That’s what it was last year. And we have a lot of great players and a lot of good people, but we’ve got to learn. We’ve got to play better-percentage hockey as far as how we play, the right way, more often than we were. That’s why we’re losing. We can figure it out. We’re a smart group.”
Despite them having 39 games remaining in the schedule, time is going to go fast in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division. So the Islanders know they need to start with a good performance against their Manhattan rivals if they want to get off on the right foot.
“We just want to go in and obviously get back to our game and some of the things we did against Jersey, and obviously improve on those,” said captain John Tavares, who is going to be joined by Josh Bailey at the All-Star Game in Tampa later this month. “It’s back into it now, took advantage of [the break], and I think everyone is excited and ready to go.”
Well, not everyone. That’s because the Islanders have also been hit with rash of injuries, starting with Bailey — who was set to miss his second game with lower-body injury, but is still second in the league with 38 assists. Both Andrew Ladd and Johnny Boychuk will be out, as well, joining regulars already gone for the year in Nikolay Kulemin and Calvin de Haan.
“We have no Kulemin, no Ladd, no Bailey, no Boychuk, no de Haan. That’s tough. You say that real fast, it stings,” Weight said.
But this is the group that is going to have to start turning things around, or this season is going to get away from the Islanders very fast.
“We’ve gotten a little too mesmerized with our success early and how we achieved it,” Weight said. “I think we strayed on some things. That’s from coaches [on] down. We just have to focus on what makes us a good team.”