Last night, I was at the Isles vs. Devils game and I saw firsthand the defensive woes of our team. Since opening night, the fact that this team is not as defensively responsible as it has been in previous years is not a secret. The Islanders currently sit last in the league in goals allowed. As the game neared its end, the jumbotron showed notable events in Islanders history on that night, January 16th. Right after the arena recalled Kyle Okposo’s four goal night against Pittsburgh, it turned its attention to Thomas Greiss’ shutout last year against the Bruins, reminding me that a year ago today, Doug Weight became head coach of the Islanders.
Nearly a year ago, I had the privilege of watching Thomas Greiss and the Islanders shut out the Dallas Stars in Weight’s first game as head coach; ironic since a year later, this team has too much trouble just keeping the puck out of zone, let alone the net. It’s that irony that begs the question, is Weight doing a good enough job as Islanders head coach?
In the month of November 2016, the Islanders seldom scored over two goals a game. Despite this, excluding the three games against the Lightning that month, pretty much every loss was decided by only a single goal. Islanders fans called for former coach Jack Capuano’s head after every loss, and for good reason. The team wasn’t giving a sixty minute effort for many games. When Weight became coach, he openly said he’d bench anyone who he felt wasn’t going to help him hold a lead in the third period. He wanted players to prove their worth to him during games. Now, he leads a much more offensively minded team that, this season at least, tends to play irresponsibly in their own end. Even before the Islanders lost multiple key players to injury, the Islanders allowed eight total goals over their first two games of the season, and only won two games in October while allowing under three goals, and only three such games in November.
Should Islanders fans be calling for Weight’s head like they did for Freddy Flintstone’s a year prior? Maybe. In addition to his aggressive coaching style, he is known to evade questions in postgame interviews, often ignoring our defensive woes altogether. Granted, he hasn’t had much personnel to work with, and GM Garth Snow hasn’t given him any help in that respect. The so-called “swagger” that he tries to instill in his team might excuse any hubris the players may exhibit. A team that constantly gives up the first goal of the night and more than 35+ shots a game should not be above .500, let alone fighting for a playoff spot. But the Islanders are, and for much of last season, it’s something the Islanders weren’t able to accomplish.
As the season ended last year, Weight was known to have always had the standings in the locker room so the team can literally see what they need to do to get into playoff position. It’s a strategy that almost worked last year. In response to missing the playoffs, he demanded a fast start to the year and for the most part, his team delivered. Until late December, the Islanders were in almost uncontested playoff position. Then the team lost important players like Bailey, de Haan, Kulemin, and Boychuk to injury and things began to go downhill. The Penguins’ 51 points are just one more than the Islanders, and the two teams are tied in games played. Playoffs are very much a possibility. As three of the four aforementioned players begin to return from injury, the spotlight will be on Weight to lead a defensively responsible team to the playoffs. If things don’t turn around, then Islanders fans are allowed to discuss a replacement, but until then, he’s done an admirable job as coach and more than deserves to keep his job.