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Coaching change 'real wake-up call' for Islanders

Doug Weight making transition from assistant while New York chases playoff berth

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

DETROIT -- The last time the New York Islanders changed coaches, their captain was Doug Weight.

It was Nov. 15, 2010. They were 0-9-1 in their past 10 games and last in the NHL standings. When practice was delayed, the players figured something was about to happen. When general manager Garth Snow walked into the dressing room with Jack Capuano, who had been coaching Bridgeport of the American Hockey League, they knew Scott Gordon had been fired.

They knew they had gotten Gordon fired.

"The feeling we should have is a punch in the stomach," Weight told his teammates. "We failed Scott and we failed ourselves."

Now Weight has replaced Capuano.

Weight, who became an assistant under Capuano after retiring on May 26, 2011, took over for Capuano on Jan. 17 when the Islanders were 17-17-8 and last in the Eastern Conference. His message was much the same as it was before.

"We're all the cause of this," Weight said. "They can't trade 22 guys, they can't fire 15 guys, so one guy takes the brunt of what we've all contributed to: inadequacy and underachieving."

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The difference is that this move came later in the season, expectations are higher, and Weight carries more, well, weight with the players than a typical replacement. He has worn their uniform, been in their skates, gone through this situation and stood behind them before.

Despite two tough games -- giving up a goal on a double-deflection with 27.9 seconds left in the third period and losing 5-4 against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday, then losing 5-4 in overtime to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday -- the Islanders have gone 5-1-2 under Weight.

They're five points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference with four teams to leapfrog, and play one of the teams they're chasing, the Toronto Maple Leafs, at Barclays Center on Monday (7 p.m. ET; SN, MSG+2, NHL.TV).

"We all have a lot of respect for him," said captain John Tavares, who has worked with Weight since entering the NHL in 2009-10 with him as a teammate. "Sometimes when you bring a coach from the outside, there's kind of a feeling-out process -- someone you don't really know, trying to get to know them personality, how they do certain things or what they expect. Dougie's been around a long time.

"It's a little different, his voice being the head coach, but there's still a comfort level there, guys knowing how he is and who he is and what he expects."

It can be difficult going from player to coach, or assistant coach to head coach, within the same team. One day you're one of the guys; the next you're not. One day you're a buddy; the next you're the boss. Can you accept you're not a player anymore? Can the guys see you as a coach now, or as the coach?

But Weight started coaching while still playing, in a sense. He joined the Islanders in 2008-09, when he was 37 years old and toward the end of an NHL career. Weight won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006, played 1,238 games and scored 1,033 points for six teams.

Frans Nielsen was 24 and in his first full NHL season. They played the same position, center, and sat next to each other in the locker room.

"I was all over him, just getting questions at him," said Nielsen, who played for the Islanders until he left for the Red Wings as a free agent July 1. "Not everyone gets to sit next to a guy like that. He helped me a ton."

When Weight became an assistant, he made the transition.

"He was missing it," Nielsen said. "He was struggling a little bit. It took a little time, and then I think it just got natural not seeing him as a player but seeing him as a coach. … When he walks in the room, guys look up, and they pay attention."

Now that Weight has become the coach, he's making another transition.

"I got some great advice from people who have coached around the League and friends I played with who are coaching," Weight said. "A lot was, 'You have to be yourself. You have to do things the way you feel they have to be done. Don't be lazy. Do things.' … I can't let my foot off the gas on everything I'm doing. I've got to be transparent and honest."

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Weight wants more efficient play in the defensive zone, simplifying the system, changing how his players front opponents, telling them to trust each other to win one-on-one battles, asking his centers to work with the defensemen as a three-man unit. He wants the puck up the ice quicker.

He gives immediate, matter-of-fact feedback on the bench. He meets with players each time they're out of the lineup.

A good sign: He recognizes each player is different and will not necessarily respond the same way he did, so he tailors his approach to individuals. He told a couple of players he actually would go easier on them but not to think that they were pushing him around and would not be held accountable.

"I'm going to be respectful to these guys," Weight said. "But I expect a lot of respect back to my staff and myself."

We'll see what happens. Weight has the same roster Capuano did and needs to go on a run to make the playoffs. When Weight was promoted, Snow said the Islanders would search for a permanent coach.

At one point in a recent interview, Weight said he had written down ideas over the years and added, "Not that I'm aspiring to be a coach." Asked what he aspired to be, he said, "I have a lot of aspirations in different areas." He also is assistant general manager.

For now, it's about getting rid of that feeling in the Islanders' stomachs again.

"Things can slip quick when you're going downhill," Weight said. "They really can. Sometimes you don't even notice it. But I think it's a real wake-up call."

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