After five preseason games in six days last week, the Islanders are in the midst of four practice days between games. Head coach Jack Capuano is using that time to get his club on the same page and implement his system.
“When you get some extended time, it’s important to practice your structure,” Capuano said. “Especially on the power play and the penalty kill, it’s important because obviously that wins hockey games. We’re doing a lot of teaching and we’re showing some video to the guys. We still have some time before [opening night] to accomplish what we want.”
This week’s practices have taken on a high level of intensity. Players are on the ice for extra work by 9:00 a.m. for practices that officially begin at 10:00. Another hard skate Wednesday included plenty of power play, penalty kill and breakout drills, something defenseman Thomas Hickey says will pay dividends once the season begins.
“We’ve had a lot more time to work on things,” Hickey said. “We can go for more reps and we can go a bit harder with time in between games. It’s been really important for us to get there and work hard against each other. It hasn’t been easy but it’s making us better.”
Captain John Tavares noted that for the Islanders, there’s no better time than the present to work on X’s and O’s.
“We’re going over a lot of video and a lot of the systems so it could mean long days, but that’s part of getting ready for the season,” Tavares said. “We have to take advantage of our practice time now because we know what the schedule will be like, especially the second half of the year.”
Capuano has said that there will continue to be personnel changes on the special teams units. With different rosters for each preseason game to this point, he has experimented with different power play and penalty kill combinations. On Wednesday, everyone in the Coliseum practice group got a chance to participate in 5-on-4 and 4-on-5 drills.
“I think he’s looking at everyone and that there’s room for guys to step in different situations,” forward Colin McDonald said. “A lot of guys have to get looks during the preseason because we don’t have our full line-up every night. Guys are going to play in situations that maybe they normally wouldn’t, but it’s good for each of us to see how we can expand on the roles we had last year.”
Capuano added that improving the penalty kill is a priority for his team. Last season, the penalty kill struggled down the stretch, allowing 12 goals over the last 12 games (including playoffs), and the head coach says it needs to be better for the Islanders to improve their standings position and return to the postseason.
“We are going to have a few changes for sure in our penalty kill. We struggled a little bit especially in the playoffs against Pittsburgh. So there will be a few adjustments there, on our 5-on-5 and our power play. I don’t think we’ll change a whole lot but we’ll adjust as our opposition adjusts.”
The Islanders will try to put it all together on Friday, Sept. 22, when the Nashville Predators visit the Coliseum. Game time is set for 7:00 p.m.