Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
By Doug Weight's and his own players' admission, not much has changed systematically for the Islanders since Jack Capuano was fired on January 17 and replaced on an interim basis by the NHL veteran of 1,238 games -- including 107 with the Islanders.
A 'tweak' to defensive zone coverage has been all that's been mentioned to the media ever since the switch, and the results have been strangely similar under both coaches. The Islanders have not lost consecutive games in regulation since December 13-15, when they were defeated by the Capitals and Blackhawks -- a run that has spanned 25 games: 13 under Capuano and 12 under Weight.
After Sunday night's victory over the offensively challenged Avalanche, the league's worst team, New York is now 8-2-2 under Weight, only two games better than the 6-4-2 they went in the previous 12 games under Capuano's leadership. Diving into more team-based statistics from the same time period, the results once again come out very similar.
The Islanders scored 41 goals and allowed 34 in the last 12 games of Capuano's tenure. In Weight's first 12, New York has scored the same 41 and allowed 30. If you remove the three worst defensive games from that period for each coach, how about 15 goals against in 9 games? In both instances.
The Islanders were coming off a 2-2-2 stretch that left them with a record of 17-17-8 when Capuano was fired, six points out of a wild card spot. They now currently sit one point behind Toronto, even in games played, with a head-to-head meeting looming Tuesday at Air Canada Centre.
They are still 27th in Corsi at 47.25, ahead of only the Sabres, Devils, and Coyotes in possession. They sit 8th in PDO (an advanced stat indicator of 'puck luck') at 100.96, above the 100.00 average, driven largely by the 4th best shooting percentage in the NHL.
While many things are exactly the same, the team looks different and most certainly feels different, feeding off the confidence that has come with this run. The energy, or anxiety, that often surges like adrenaline after a coaching change has clearly provided the team with a boost. And players who were failing under Capuano seem to be thriving under a new leading man behind the bench.
First and foremost is Ryan Strome, who seems to be a totally different player than the one we saw struggle -- and that's putting it lightly -- in his last two seasons under Capuano. Called out, benched and demoted, Strome, a 50-point scorer in his first full NHL season, crashed to 14 goals and 39 points over his last 110 games prior to the firing.
Now, under Weight, he's been better defensively and found a spot on the top power play unit with John Tavares, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, and Nick Leddy. In his 12 games under the new regime, Strome has collected 3-8-11 with points in six of his last seven games.
Leddy seems to have his shackles removed, allowing him the freedom to play the type of game he loves to play -- that of a free-roaming, possession-hungry, zone-entry monster. Leddy has upped his point-per-game average from 0.51 under Capuano to 0.83 playing for Weight, with 2-8-10 in his last 12 games, recently celebrating his 200th career NHL point.
Anthony Beauvillier is continuing to play the type of gritty, hard-working hockey that earned him a roster spot out of training camp, but would still get him a healthy scratch here and there under old leadership. Now, it seems he is in the lineup every night, as he should be.
Andrew Ladd, who was brought to New York as a free agent this past summer on Weight's urging, missed the first four games after the switch, but has come to life, putting up 4-2-6 in nine games under the new head coach. He still might not be playing with Tavares, but Ladd is finally giving the Islanders some value -- albeit still a little short of justifying his exorbitant contract.
So, while team statistics seem to be showing little difference between Capuano and Weight, it's been in the play of certain individuals where the most evidence is seen of a clear, decisive, and fresh voice. The voice that has the Islanders very much back in the playoff race with 28 games remaining. Whether that voice sticks around past the 2017 NHL draft is a discussion for another time.