NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders hope Thursday night represents not just the start of a six-game homestand, but also the start of a new era.
The Islanders will play their first game under interim head coach Doug Weight on Thursday night, when they host the Dallas Stars at Barclays Center. New York won its final game under Jack Capuano on Monday, when it blanked the Boston Bruins 4-0, while Dallas is coming off a wild 7-6 win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday.
Capuano was fired Tuesday, and while the timing of the dismissal might have been a bit of a surprise following one of the Islanders' most thorough wins of the season, the dropping of the ax has felt inevitable for months as New York (17-17-8) fell to the bottom of the Eastern Conference in frustrating fashion.
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The Islanders, who reached the playoffs in three of the last four seasons under Capuano and advanced to the second round of the playoffs last spring for the first time since 1993, have lost 19 games this season in which they were either tied or leading in the third period. In addition, New York has suffered seven losses in which it gave up the tying or go-ahead goal in the final four minutes of regulation.
"There's obviously games that we wish we had back during the course of the season," Islanders general manager Garth Snow said on a conference call Tuesday. "Whether it's a special teams goal, whether it's a bad goal, whether it's a deflection (or) a turnover, an offensive scoring chance that goes off the crossbar and not in the net. Just been a different season that's unfolded compared to the last two years.
"So, you know what, we need to turn the around. Really have a lot of confidence in our coaching staff and our players and (it) starts with our next game Thursday."
Weight, who ended his playing career with the Islanders in 2011 and immediately became Capuano's top assistant, met with the team for about half an hour before overseeing his first practice on Wednesday. He said his goal is to get the Islanders, who are currently eight points out of a playoff spot, into position to be battling for a wild card spot this spring.
"All I want to do is help these guys get in a position in March where these games are meaningful and we've got that feeling going down our arms, that tingle that we're in the hunt," Weight said. "Teams go through stretches during season, Ours was at the beginning. It was bad. Ultimately, we paid a price, Jack paid a price and it was disappointing. We've got 40 games left."
The Stars (19-19-8) will also feel some urgency upon taking the ice on Thursday night. Dallas is two points behind the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks in the race for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.
The Stars remain in the race despite having won consecutive games just twice in the last eight weeks. They are 3-5-1 since a three-game winning streak from Dec. 23-29.
"I'd like to see us put some games together," Stars left winger Patrick Sharp told the team's website after he scored two goals on Tuesday. "It seems like when our backs are against the wall, and we need a win, we come out with a great effort. It would be nice to gather up some points and get back into contention, because it is only going to get tougher as the season goes on."
Neither team will be at 100 percent Thursday. For the Islanders, defenseman Travis Hamonic is week-to-week with a knee injury while left winger Andrew Ladd (upper body) and right winger Cal Clutterbuck (lower body) were each absent from practice Wednesday after missing Monday's game. Stars head coach Lindy Ruff said defenseman Johnny Oduya would not play Thursday due to an undisclosed injury he suffered Tuesday night.