Doug Weight, the Islanders’ interim coach, punctuated his first practice on Wednesday with the message “there’s no time to waste,” practically begging us to make a cheap headline joke that goes something like this: Weight won’t wait!
But this is no time for joking for the Isles, whose playoff breakthrough last spring has led mostly nowhere en route to an 18-17-8 start after Thursday night’s 3-0 victory over the Stars at Barclays Center.
So let’s go back to Weight’s line about time a-wastin’, which he presumably meant in the short term, and this time focus on the broader reason for urgency:
Nothing cries out for action more around Barclays Center than getting something significant accomplished before the clock starts ticking on the John Tavares Era.
Mr. Tavares is 26 now, in his eighth NHL season and with a contract that expires after 2017-18. So yes, it’s time to move things along here before one of the most talented players in franchise history gets old — or antsy.
The captain again illustrated his value against the Stars, scoring the Islanders’ first two goals — the second on the first shorthanded tally of his career — which left the new coach gushing about him, just as the old coach used to.
“It’s nice to have him on the bench,” Weight said with a big smile. “He had it on a string today. It was something special. It couldn’t come off his stick . . . Just a great leader, and I feel these guys are following him and want to follow him.”
Tavares has 18 goals, seven in his past four games. On top of that, he will play a key two-way role, as all centers do in the style Weight plans to employ. “It’s obviously good to get rewarded,” Tavares said of his goals.
He finished with six shots on goal, and linemates Anders Lee and Josh Bailey added five each.
That is encouraging news for the Islanders, who were criticized under former coach Jack Capuano for mixing and matching wingers alongside Tavares, and this season have been criticized for not adequately replacing departed free agents Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo.
If Tavares, Lee and Bailey, who have been working together of late, can get on a roll, the Islanders might, too.
Rick DiPietro, the former Islanders goaltender and current MSG analyst, is a huge fan of Weight and believes the interim boss is the sort of guy who might figure this Tavares thing out.
“For me, I would probably say that that’s Dougie’s first priority,” DiPietro said of Tavares before the game. “I think you need consistency on the first line. It’s not easy to find that. That was one of my biggest complaints [with Capuano] was you can’t find chemistry in five minutes or one period or one game. I’ll be interested to see what he does there.
“I think more importantly, Dougie’s going to be a Hall of Famer. He’s one of the best offensive players I’ve ever played with or against. You know he’s going to try to work the system where it’s geared more toward puck possession. I mean, you like the fact that Johnny’s got 16 goals, but he’s only got 16 assists, for one of the best players in the NHL. You have to make sure Johnny’s a perennial 100-point guy — a perennial 100-point guy.”
Tavares has placed blame on himself and fellow players for Capuano’s firing. The unusual thing is that he actually means it.
Same goes for his stated desire to stay the course and be the guy who eventually leads the Islanders to postseason glory.
That’s great. But he’ll need help to make it a reality. The plan is for Weight not to coach next season, but you never know.
There are five more games left on this homestand; maybe the changes will provide a boost. Time is not on their side.