All along, it appeared to just about everyone that the Islanders' problems were goaltending and team defense. But after the words of head coach Doug Weight at practice Wednesday and then after the 6-4 loss in Philadelphia on Thursday, you have to wonder if something else is wrong with the team.
On Wednesday, Weight questioned the psyche of his team.
"We have some young players, but it's time for our group to lose the frailty BS," he said.
That was alarming. Coaches are usually very reluctant to use words like frail or any that would hint at damaged psyches because a) it's one of the worst things you can say about hockey players and b) it's a poor reflection on the leadership of the team -- in this case, the general manager, coaching staff, and captains.
Also, say what you will about the handling by management of Josh Ho-Sang and the young man's unique approach to the game, but nobody ever viewed this team as frail when Ho-Sang was on it.
Still, give credit to Weight for his honesty. However, Weight's comments on MSG Network Thursday night, after his team got in a few scraps and scored two third period goals to make the game close really raised some flags. Let's break it down.
"We're a team with a new identity. Unfortunately, we didn't realize that we don't need to have a new identity. We need the same identity as we've had."
The Islanders had a nice start to the season. They haven't been good for the last five weeks. Identity? Their "old" identity when they were winning was as a team with pretty good speed and high skill on offense and holes on defense and in goal. The last time they had a true identity, in coach-speak, Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin were pounding opponents night after night. Martin was allowed to leave as a UFA, and Garth Snow's flock couldn't wait to yuk about the "ridiculous" contract offers Martin received from Toronto and many other teams. But at least the flock is still there, right on time, to defend the need in January, 2018 to lock up a sixth defenseman like Scott Mayfield for five years.
"I think we had success early. I think we've gotten blown out four or five times, with no response. You watch [John Tavares] get hit by Brad Marchand…and it's not about being dirty. Marchand could have played with eggs in his pants against us (the next game)."
Weight was disgusted that his team didn't lay a finger on Marchand during the loss at home to the Bruins on Tuesday. Good for him for calling them out.
"You yell and scream…" and then Weight trailed off, shaking his head. It's like he wasn't being interviewed, but talking to himself, before a television audience. Then he gathered himself, attempting to set the stage for Friday night's game in Brooklyn. "We played with severe bite. It's for the guys to consider that it could be the best loss of the year. The way we played in the third period, we're awful hard to play against. We have to have that emotion and that level of battle for the rest of the year."
This makes me think something's wrong, and the Islanders better start figuring it out, beginning now. The Islanders entered the third period Thursday night losing to the Philadelphia Flyers -- a bitter rival, at least that's how it used to be -- and the fact that the guys finally woke up, hit back a bit and scored a few goals is to be taken as a hopeful sign?
The Islanders will break out of this losing streak Friday or Sunday against the Devils. When they do, as it usually happens, everything will come together for 60 minutes and the outlook will be positive again for a few days. But when they do, it won't have anything to do with Shane Prince, Josh Bailey, and Jordan Eberle briefly dropping the gloves last night in the latest horrendous loss.
Weight calling his team frail, admitting that he's had to yell and scream at his players, openly wondering where the response was to Marchand, and then hoping that his players view a 6-4 loss in Philadelphia as the "best loss of the season" is unusual, troubling.
This was some intriguing stuff by Weight. How he handles his first experience as head coach enduring what is an almost 12-year culture of losing and CYA directed by Snow will be fascinating to watch.
Today's Tweeted Question
Greg (@gtrivard) asks, "Are the coaches capable of adjusting and putting in a system that works depending on the team they play?"
Oh no, Greg. No no no no no way. No way are we going to again make this about the coaches.
We heard this about Scott Gordon, who we'll never know if he could be a good NHL coach because he never got to coach an NHL team. Then there was the ultimate easy target, Jack Capuano, year after year after year -- kept around for a long time because, once that coaching change was made, the focus would be on the general manager.
So now it's Weight and the new staff that are the dopes? Coaches have to adapt, yes. There is some strategy for playing the Bruins one night, then the Flyers, then the Penguins, sure. There is some preparation, video. The coaches need to have the right players on the ice at the right time as often as possible.
There have been some bad coaches in the NHL, certainly a few with the Islanders. These are not bad coaches.
No, sorry. Not going there again.