Following their first consecutive road losses in more than a year-and-a-half, the Islanders practiced Monday morning at Nassau Coliseum in preparation for Tuesday’s home tilt against the Buffalo Sabres.
After the Islanders registered just 19 and 16 shots, respectively, at Chicago and at Nashville over the weekend, head coach Jack Capuano made getting the puck on net a focal point going forward.
“We showed really good video this morning on how we have to play,” Capuano said. “They saw how we played last year throughout that video too. I think they know exactly the framework and structure that we need to be successful. It can translate and we can execute that tomorrow night against Buffalo.”
The upcoming four-game, eight-day home stand also includes a visit from the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday, the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday and the Vancouver Canucks next Tuesday. But Capuano says in order to right the ship, the team can’t look too far ahead.
“We just want to make sure that we focus on one period at a time and not look at the home stand as a week-and-a-half,” Capuano said. “It’s a singular focus; one shift at a time. Win your shift and do your job. Your work ethic will dictate the scoreboard.”
Reflecting on the losses to the Blackhawks and Predators, forward Kyle Okposo pointed out a few areas for improvement.
“I think we're playing too much in our own zone,” Okposo said. “We're not going to establish our offensive game and we're not going to get shots. But we have to be better in the offensive zone also. We have to be quicker and more physical. We have to move the puck a little bit better and shoot pucks.”
Capuano changed the line combinations midway through Saturday’s game in Nashville, and continued to experiment during Monday’s practice. Michael Grabner skated on the left wing with John Tavares and Okposo, while his right wing spot on the second line was filled by a combination of Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Brock Nelson. Matt Moulson played alongside Peter Regin and Cal Clutterbuck.
Free agent defenseman Radek Martinek also signed a waiver to practice with the club, and participated in drills Monday. Capuano said that all the tweaking of forward and defense combinations was purely experimental. He didn’t commit to whether any of the changes would carry over to Tuesday’s game.
Buffalo will play Monday night at home, meaning their trip to the Coliseum will mark the second half of a back-to-back. The struggling Sabres are 0-5-1, but forward Frans Nielsen says the key to an Islanders victory will lie in outworking the visitors.
“It's tough to win in this league and when you don't work hard, you're not going to get results,” Nielsen said. “We have to get back to doing that. We have as good of a team as anyone in this league. We just have to figure it out and play our game. We weren't good last year at home. It's something we definitely want to improve on and it's going to be a big week in front of us.”