Dec 14, 2013; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano speaks to the media after the game against the Montreal Canadiens at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Canadiens won the game 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Capuano Bearing Blame For Islanders' Struggles; Should He?


Head coach Jack Capuano has been a talking point, a scapegoat, a lightning rod, the subject of countless “hot takes” from columnists, bloggers, and fans alike…take your pick; the list goes on. For better or for worse, his name has been at the forefront of the conversation about the 2013-14 New York Islanders.

The Isles are 11-20-7 (27 pts), which puts them at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division, nine points out of a playoff spot. They’ve dealt with injuries—most notably to starting netminder Evgeni Nabokov and power play quarterback Lubomir Visnovsky. They’re struggling to regain the identity that struck fear into the heart of the Pittsburgh Penguins last May. Their longest winning streak so far this season was two games.

For the Islanders, this season’s collapse has been nothing short of epic.

But is it solely Capuano’s fault that the team isn’t performing up to expectations? (Expectations that, ohbytheway, may have been inflated by the combination of last season’s lucky playoff berth and a postseason-starved fan base.)

For Capuano, it’s all added up to one of the fastest falls from grace in recent memory. Seven months ago he was receiving Jack Adams Award buzz as the NHL’s best coach. Now, the public is calling for his head. And for all intents and purposes, he’s dealing with the same team he had in the lockout-shorted 2012-13 season. Huh?

So why blame Capuano for all of the team’s problems? Perhaps the coach said it best: “Players win and coaches lose.” And he’s right.

The coach is the team’s figurehead. He absorbs the brunt of the media’s scrutiny when things go south. Why, then, is success is only attributed to the players? It’s a conundrum Capuano has had to deal with in his two-plus seasons behind the bench on Long Island, although the successes have been few and far-between this year.

The Islanders have blown 10 third-period leads this season, seemingly an indicator that the coach isn’t doing his job. Lost in that assumption, however, is that Capuano has done a good enough job coaching his team that they’ve had third-period leads in at least ten games.

The Islanders have proven they’re able to compete with the best teams in the league—Anaheim, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh—but can’t quite play the full 60 minutes required to win against top-flight talent. To his credit, Capuano continually refuses to call out his players by name or sacrifice them to the media for their mistakes that have directly led to losses.

“We believe in the guys that we have in that room,” Capuano said after Saturday night’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, a 5-3 home loss featuring a 3-1 blown third-period lead. “We still have a young back end. I believe in the guys that we have back there that can do the job.”

From what the media is allowed to see, Capuano isn’t a fiery coach in the mold of Detroit’s Mike Babcock or Vancouver’s John Tortorella. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a motivator. The players in the room clearly respect him as a coach and a mentor, which is a long-winded way of saying that Capuano hasn’t lost the team.

He’s implemented a system best suited to the level of talent and experience on his roster, and it’s on the players to perform according to that system. Which, for the most part, they do.

Ask yourself: if the Isles have quit on Capuano—a lazy cliché that’s been parroted time and time again this season—then why are they playing close games night-in and night-out? How can the players lack motivation if they’re giving trouble to the Anaheims and the Pittsburghs of the NHL?

The desire is there; it’s the execution that isn’t.

“That’s battle. That’s winning your shift. That’s making sure that you defend hard, and you can’t take a second off,” Capuano said. “We talk about that all the time. It’s our structure. That’s about the will to compete every single shift and having that desperation to begin with.”

For all the work Capuano and his coaching staff do with the team on a daily basis, it’s out of their hands when the players on the ice make poor clearing attempts, or lose their marks, or decide to pile on top of one another in the crease in the dying seconds of a game.

You can see it on Capuano’s face in his postgame press conferences. He’s more frustrated than anyone with the way his team is performing this year, but there’s no real answer as to why the Islanders have a mental block when it comes to the third period.

And unless you’re a licensed sports psychologist, there might be no figuring it out.



If you have a solution to the Islander’s third-period struggles this season, I’m all ears. Catch up with me on the Twitter (@MichaelWillhoft) and let me know what you think can be done to ensure the team guards a lead rather than give one up.


Tags: 2013-14 NHL Season Jack Capuano New York Islanders NHL

  • Ken Meoni


  • JPinVA

    This is a solid take on the situation. I think Jack should get until the end of the season to see what he can do with the 5 rookies he’s charged with shaping this year. I don’t really think anybody expected 5 (Strome, Nelson, deHaan, Ness and Donovan) to be in the lineup. That seems to escape most people who feel he’s done a lousy job. Even the small amount of NHL experience they’ve had has helped. They need to be above NHL .500 in the second half to show that they can win under Cappy. Then it’s all about evaluating options at the end of the season. People have to remember that it isn’t that easy to find subordinates that share your goals and directions. Snow will be tasked with that in June, and it’s going to be hard for him to stray from the current staff members if he chooses to end Cappy’s tenure as coach.

    • Bababoie to y’all!

      Yeah its hard to find subordinates to go along with the Wang culture of losing and the Wang Way of running this org. No real coach with any sense of pride will work under the Wang conditions. This is formally KO21 from LHH. BTW

  • Bababoie to y’all!

    You go from saying Cappy was getting Jack Adams considerations last year for winning and in this same piece you say that only the players get credit for wins. Coach of the Year talk was giving him credit for the winning they were doing last year. So that’s a contradiction. The coach got pats on the back last year for winning and this year hes getting kicks in the ass for losing

  • Bababoie to y’all!

    The fact of the matter is the 3rd period melt downs are something that can be COACHED OUT OF THEM. A good coach would call a TO and then actually COACH the team. Call a TO and remind them how they need to play in the moment instead of hoping they just remember it from practice. Maybe this team needs a good sports psychologist but Wang is too cheap to hire a scout staff so he sure is hell aint spending $$$ on that.

  • Demoisles

    This article misses the point quit a bit….It’s not that Cappy hasn’t done well because he has. The reason he needs to go is he was hired as an interim coach with limited experience in hopes of taking the team far enough along until our pool of prospects started to mature. Today most are matured and ready to take the next step however, he is in over his head with how to win in the NHL. He simply does not have the experience. Very similar to the business model that was layed out by the Kings, Blackhawks & Blues. Built through the draft and ultimately handed over to well experienced coaches with a winning pedigree. And where are those teams now? Most teams have the same issues as the Isles. We’re no different other than feeling sorry for ourselves and making excuse after excuse. It’s time to over spend on a few players preferably stay at home defenceman (ownership issue) and it goes without saying, a goalie for years to come….With that being said, bring in a winning coach and his philosophy on how to win and we will be ready to move on to the next phase of the so called re-build. At the moment, were stuck in neutral…..