CHICAGO — When the Islanders headed here Friday to begin a three-game swing through the Western Conference, they were in need of a change.
Not necessarily on the roster, though that ever-shifting group again was altered, with Shane Prince staying behind because of a lower-body injury and bruising forward Ross Johnston, who leads the AHL with 113 penalty minutes, getting a promotion.
The real adjustment for Doug Weight’s crew has to come from the top of the lineup.
“It’s the time of the year to follow your best players,” Weight said. “Our top two lines, our veterans, our leaders have to lead us. What they can sometimes misconstrue is what that means, maybe trying to do too much. It means playing the way we play consistently, battling, energy, short shifts. Doesn’t mean you have to score three a night or extend your shifts.”
Weight was encouraged by the first half of Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Bruins, the Isles’ seventh regulation loss in the last 10 games. Even as they fell three points behind the Penguins and Rangers for the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, Weight was trying to instill some belief in his team, which has gone 8-13-2 since Dec. 1 and lost a large number of regulars to injury along the way.
“I think we played 37 of the best minutes we played in six weeks, and for that I’m relieved a little bit,” he said. “You’re going to have bad breaks. But when you’re not confident as a team or a person, they tailspin. We’re going to try to get on the other side of that ledger with diligence and work ethic for 60 minutes. You have to trust you’re going to play the right way and win more than we lose.”
Among the injured, Andrew Ladd (upper body) remained behind but Johnny Boychuk (lower body) and Casey Cizikas (upper body) made the trip. Josh Bailey practiced Friday with no ill effects from his first game in nearly two weeks.
“I don’t think they’ll be threatening to play the first game or two,” Weight said of Cizikas and Boychuk. “They’ve got to get back into shape. It’ll be a good test to get back out there and work. Ross has been playing with real good pace, he’s a real aggressive forward. It’s something we’re lacking right now, I think. We’ve got decisions to make now.”