On his first full day as coach of the New York Islanders, Jack Capuano had a simple message for his players: It's time for a fresh start.
"We have to put the past behind us now," Capuano said Tuesday after practice at the Nassau Coliseum. "It's a fresh slate for everybody here."
The Islanders would be glad to take a mulligan for the first five-plus weeks of the season. After a 4-1-2 start, they've dropped 10 consecutive games -- nine in regulation -- including all three on a California trip last week, costing third-year coach Scott Gordon his job.
Capuano, who was coaching the Isles' AHL team in Bridgeport, was named interim coach -- he said he hasn't talked to GM Garth Snow about his long-term future. He is familiar with most of the players either through coaching them in the minors or during his time as an assistant with the big club, and said that familiarity should speed up the transition.
The Islanders' biggest problem has been offense -- they've scored just eight times in their last eight games during the losing streak.
"They've got some energy and compete level." Capuano said. "Obviously we're having some problems scoring goals, and hopefully we can break out of that slump."
For now, however, he doesn't plan to make any major changes -- at least not before his NHL coaching debut Wednesday night at home against Tampa Bay.
"There are a few things that we'll tweak a little bit," he said. "We'll take it day by day. We have a lot of video to watch and figure out what we want to change.
"We want to wait a little bit. there are some things we might talk about before the game -- you only have a couple of days before the game to work on things, so you don't want to give them too much. they need to relax and go out and have some fun. That's the most important thing now."
Veteran forward Trent Hunter said Capuano's message was basic.
"He came in and said we're going to keep things simple. We're going to be a hard-working team. We're going to get bodies to the front of the net and pucks to front of the net. We've got to get some ugly goals. the puck's not going in for us right now; we've got to get pucks there, and whether they go in off a body or a foot, we've got to find a way to get that puck in the net.
Losing streaks tend to create a pall over a team, so Capuano's biggest task figures to come in the locker room rather than on the ice.
"Hopefully this kind of changes the atmosphere and the disappointment over the last few weeks," said second-year center John Tavares, the cornerstone of the team's rebuilding efforts after he was taken with the first pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. "We have to approach it almost like a new season. We don't have any excuses any more, or any other reason we shouldn't be performing on the ice.
"Ten games is unacceptable, so now it's time to go forward and get something positive going. It's been a pretty quick change, so the more time with him we get, the more comfortable with things that we're changing in the system and his style of coaching."
Gordon was in the last year of a three-year contract, and the Isles finished 30th and 26th in the overall standings in his first two seasons, so a 10-game losing streak was bound to trigger all kinds of rumors. But Tavares said the coaching change was still a surprise.
"I think you're always surprised. You never want that kind of thing to happen," he said. "We're all part of the same family, the same team. Of course it's disappointing and you never want to lose 10 in a row, but Garth felt it was necessary to go in a new direction.
"Scott helped me in a lot of ways and helped the team in many ways as well, but now it's time to move on and start something fresh here. A new direction, some new concepts, it's a new beginning for us. Hopefully it will kick-start and get us going here."