Just a few weeks ago, it seemed as though the Islanders’ season was done. They were in last place in the Metropolitan Division. Their disappointing season seemed to culminate in the firing of head coach Jack Capuano. It seems that his dismissal was a wake-up call to the players. Since Doug Weight took over as head coach, the team has gone 5-0-1, putting them within reach of a playoff spot.
The only team to beat the Islanders under Doug Weight, the Philadelphia Flyers, currently hold the second wild card spot with 56 points. While the Islanders are within reach of them, with 53 points and 3 games in hand, they would also have to leapfrog the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have 55 points, and the Florida Panthers, who have 54 points. An advantage that the Islanders have on the Panthers is that they have 3 games in hand on them as well.
The key factors behind the team’s turnaround include the better play of the first line, including a red-hot John Tavares, Thomas Greiss’s continued solid goaltending, and the team’s new approach under Doug Weight. Weight made small changes to Capuano’s system, moving the centers lower in the defensive zone to support the defensemen and allowing them to better gather speed for a rush. He also wants his wingers to play a little less aggressively at the points in order to avoid allowing for an opening in the high slots for opposing teams. Perhaps Weight’s best attribute as a coach is his strong communication with the players, an ability that also proved useful during his playing days. According to Newsday, “Weight has displayed the standings on the smartboard in the team dressing room, he has been critical and direct when necessary, and he has remained a bit more stoic behind the bench than when he was an assistant.”
Another change by Weight is that he wants 19-year-old Anthony Beauvillier to play every game. Despite playing very well with the Islanders early in the season, Jack Capuano didn’t want the top prospect to be an everyday player. As a result, many felt he was being mishandled by the organization. Since becoming a regular under Weight, Beauvillier has continued to play well and learn fast. He could very well end up being a star player in the coming years if he isn’t mishandled.
It will be interesting to see in the coming weeks whether or not the Islanders return to their poor play from the first half of the season. This team looked like they had one foot in the grave in the beginning of January. Now they have a chance to save their season and salvage a playoff spot. How the team plays for the remainder of the season will likely determine the fate of Doug Weight as head coach. Is the team on a hot streak, or have they finally figured themselves out? We’ll find out in the coming weeks.