The New York Islanders are coming off a 4-0 win and a coach firing. The Dallas Stars are coming off a loss in Buffalo followed by a goalfest (7-6) win over the Rangers in Manhattan.
Both teams are in the midst of disappointing seasons and come in at the always underwhelming NHL version of “.500,” though the Stars have four more points (46) by virtue of playing four more games than the Islanders, and they are much closer to playoff position by virtue of playing in the suddenly weaker Western Conference.
Tonight, for the Isles, the Doug Weight era begins.
Will the longtime assistant coach and general manager make a difference behind the bench? Does he have different ideas?
It sounds like, maybe. In the very least he’ll be approaching it in a do-it-or-else, throw-everything-at-it-now, nothing-to-lose position since as interim this could be his only shot to ever be a head coach in the NHL, and his team needs every break it can get to climb back out of last place and into a playoff conversation.
What does he want?
You know, less time in our zone, more in theirs (via Newsday):
“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.”
Furthermore, John Tavares needs help, and the existing players need to be part of that (via the Post’s Brett Cyrgalis):
#Isles Doug Weight this morning: "[Tavares] needs some help, and I’m going to put some pressure on a lot of other guys as well."— Brett Cyrgalis (@BrettCyrgalis) January 19, 2017
That means...new level of accountability? Players have to show him something? Again via Newsday:
“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.”
And everyone has referenced Weight’s passion. He brings the fire of a player with, hopefully, the perspective of an analytical coach. Via the team site:
"I have to forge forward for these guys, I have to be positive and prepared to work and I plan on doing that," Weight said. "All I want to do is help these guys and these coaches and these players get in a position in March that these games are meaningful and we've got that feeling going down our arms, that tingle, that we're in the hunt."
Speaking of analysis, and one of the old criticisms of Jack Capuano, is this a throwaway line or something more meaningful from Johnny Boychuk? Via young Carterhud:
[Weight] knows the keys to either changing in game strategy or seeing what the other team is doing and can adapt well.
Hmmm... The now fired coach Jack Capuano talked a lot of adjustments to other teams, but he also talked of “playing the way we need to play,” which, when looked at a certain way, can be interpreted as stubbornly playing one certain way and making everyone else react to us. It’s always tough to discern coach-speak from actual actions and actual player reactions, but to these eyes Capuano adjusted to other teams a lot less than other teams adjusted to his Islanders.
We’ll see if Weight takes that a little differently, something that could include more line matching and less “Fourth line after a goal. Every time.” type of behavior.
The Isles will start the Weight era the same way the Capuano era ended: Thomas Greiss is in goal, and injuries will keep Travis Hamonic, Andrew Ladd and Cal Clutterbuck out of the lineup.
Add to that list Johnny Boychuk, who is day-to-day like Ladd and Clutterbuck, and you have a defense at risk of exposure against the high-powered Stars offense. Scott Mayfield will rejoin the lineup with Adam Pelech as the blueline fill-ins.
For Dallas, expect Kari Lehtonen to start. They also have some blueline injuries, with Johnny Oduya and Jamie Oleksiak.
Final Cappy Pre-Gamer
For the legendary Les Beaver’s final Coach Cappy pre-game speech, go here and enjoy.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks here by game time, which is 7 p.m. EST. You may not pick Weight.