Doug Weight didn’t forecast major changes to his team’s style of play when he took over as head coach last week.
The biggest change he wanted to see was having his centers swing lower in the defensive zone to work as what Weight calls “a team of three” with the defensemen to win pucks and start the rush the other way.
It’s only been four games — a small sample size, as the stat folks call it — but the Islanders have been playing with a stronger structure in their own end. And, consequently, they’re spending far less time in the defensive zone, which translates to more time in the opponents’ end, more scoring chances and more wins and points for an Isles team desperate for all that good stuff.
“You can’t be too eager to fly the zone,” said Brock Nelson, one of those centers tasked with being more defensively responsible under Weight. “The idea is to get a little deeper in your own end so you find yourself with the puck in the middle more when you’re supporting the D. That can lead to rushes with more speed up the ice.”
Nelson scored his first goal in 10 games on a speed rush through the neutral zone 35 seconds into the third period on Tuesday, a key goal to provide a 3-1 lead on the way to a 4-2 win over the Blue Jackets. The Isles surrendered seven shots and way too much offensive-zone time to Columbus in the first 11 minutes of Tuesday’s game.
But the Isles were disciplined and strong from there on, giving Columbus just six shots until the closing minutes of the third when the Isles were up three.
The 23 total shots on goal allowed matched a season low — done two other times, including last Thursday in Weight’s coaching debut, a 3-0 win over the Stars.
Weight hasn’t had much time to practice these changes, with Wednesday being only the second full day of practice the team has had since he took over. But a video session on Monday helped solidify his message.
“We pulled the casino rules, turned the air all the way up, make it nice and cool in the room and we spent 20-30 minutes on the computer, watching the games, watching our structure and walking through it,” Weight said. “Everyone’s talking.”
And everyone is buying in. Again, it’s only four games and the fearsome Canadiens are in Barclays Center on Thursday. But so far, so good on Weight’s structural tweaks.
Notes & quotes: Anders Lee (illness) and Thomas Hickey (lower body) missed practice Wednesday and Weight sounded doubtful either would play Thursday, the last game before the All-Star break. Anthony Beauvillier, who missed Tuesday with a sore foot, will play; so would Scott Mayfield in Hickey’s spot. Thomas Greiss starts in goal.