There was some self-reflection around the Islanders room on Doug Weight’s first day as interim head coach, but there’s too much work to be done now. With 40 games to go, Weight’s message was straightforward.
“I want to be inspired,” Weight said after a spirited practice. “You’ve got to make me put you back on the ice. I hate losing as much as I did when I was 20 years old. I plan on being as good as I can, a good coach, it’s going to be a fun atmosphere but they’re going to hear about it when they’re not working. There’ll be some repercussions. There’s no time to waste. We have to be an accountable hockey team that believes in what they’re doing.”
Weight addressed the team for 30 minutes prior to the Islanders taking the ice at Northwell Health Ice Center, the first time the full team assembled since Jack Capuano was fired on Tuesday afternoon. Captain John Tavares spoke for his teammates when he put the blame on himself and his fellow Islanders for Capuano’s firing after 42 games this season and 483 behind the Isles bench since November of 2010.
“It was a tough day because you feel that burden of him being the guy taking the fall,” Tavares said. “The way we’ve played, the way I’ve played, it hasn’t been good enough. How much he’s given to a lot of the players in here, the team, the organization, it’s not an easy thing. We all felt that today. We haven’t done a good enough job.”
Weight had been Capuano’s assistant coach for five-plus seasons as well as an assistant to general manager Garth Snow. Weight’s relationships built over his 1,238 games as a player — he hosted Tavares for the first three seasons of Tavares’ career and was instrumental in helping to bring in Andrew Ladd, a former teammate, as a free agent — are what he’ll lean on in taking over the last-place team in the Eastern Conference.
“I thought Dougie’s message this morning was inspirational,” said Ryan Strome, who had his issues with Capuano. “He wants us to play with passion. We know the passion he played with. It’s something that could energize our group. It’s still tough that one person has to take the fall for it.”
Weight said he’d make a few tweaks to the Isles’ on-ice system, but he mostly sees a team that can play better and smarter as currently constituted.
“We need to be a team a little bit more,” Weight said. “We’ll talk about our roles and our identity. I get it, I hear it all the time on the TV that we don’t have an identity. Well, we’ll have an identity. We’re going to identify, we’re going to work on a lot of O-zone. I want to play less in our zone. That is my message. And we will.”
The new era starts Thursday at Barclays Center against the Stars, the first of a six-game homestand in which the Islanders must win at least four or five to feel they really do still have a chance to resurrect their playoff hopes.
“All I want to do is help these guys get in a position in March where these games are meaningful and we’ve got that feeling going down our arms, that tingle that we’re in the hunt,” Weight said. “Eight points (out of a wild card playoff spot), a lot of games in hand and some games head to head we’ve got to win. Teams go through stretches during seasons, ours was at the beginning. It was bad. Ultimately, we paid a price, Jack paid a price and it’s disappointing. We’ve got 40 games left and I’m not worried about auditioning for anything.”
Notes & quotes: Weight said Travis Hamonic (knee) is still week-to-week, having missed practice and a fifth straight game coming up on Thursday. Ladd (upper body) and Cal Clutterbuck (lower) also missed practice and are likely out Thursday as well . . . Strome and Calvin de Haan got into a minor scrap during a drill on Wednesday. “I was happy (to see that),” Weight said. “We played with a lot of edge in practice. This is our playoff time.”