This off-season has been good to the Islanders. They acquired their best goalie tandem since the 1980’s in Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson. They picked up two talented forwards who have shown great chemistry in the past with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. And finally, in true Garth Snow fashion, they are even taking a shot on the AHL Defenseman of the Year to come to the NHL level to see if he can succeed with T.J. Brennan. This is all fine and great, but there was another complaint from fans and media about this team that went unaddressed. Jack Capuano, the team’s head coach, remains in his spot behind the bench. Fans called for Cappy’s head last season once the team hit their all too familiar November slide. Chants of “Fire Cappy”, however sporadic as they were, were heard in the Coliseum last spring. Yet Garth Snow did not remove Capuano from his duties. Was this the right move? Let’s take a look.
Jack Capuano was the head coach of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers when the fateful call came from Garth Snow in November of 2010. When Scott Gordon was fired because of a dreadful November, Capuano was promoted to coach the Islanders. He preaches battle level. He likes his guys to be accountable. He’s yet another product of the New England hockey brotherhood the Islanders seem to love. When he took over the team in 2010, they were 4-10-3 after a 10 game losing streak. They finished that season with a record of 30-39-13. The following season, the team did improve, but margianally. They went 34-37-11 and finished, yet again, with a top 5 draft pick. Things started slow again with the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season. Then, something happened. The Islanders started winning. In fact, they did so well, they made the playoffs! Their winning combined with a seriously underachieving Devils team, launched them into the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07. Everyone remembers what happened there, Nabokov was a sieve. The defense was badly outplayed by the Penguins superior offense. Yet, the young and inexperienced Islanders were able to take advantage of a very shaky Marc-Andre Fleury and make a series of it. The Islanders lost the series in six games, but two lucky bounces in games three and six, the series could have gone the other way. They gave the Pens a run for their money. Jack Capuano’s system of hockey was installed, and by god, it worked! At least, it did then.
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The off-season after being eliminated from the playoffs was one of the most disappointing that the Islanders have had in a long time. Garth Snow seemed content on the roster he had, bringing back Evgeni Nabokov and signing Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Peter Regin. Things did not click. The Islanders stood pat as every other team made steps forward. It showed in the standings as the team finished with a record identical to that of 2011-12, 34-37-11. What put salt in the wound for fans was having to watch the hated Rangers walk their way all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. What went wrong? Injuries were a factor. Lubomir Visnovsky was lost for extended time and superstar John Tavares was lost in an Olympic injury which ended his season. The thing is though, Jack Capuano did not lose his team despite all this. They played hard for him. They had, at one point, nine rookies in the lineup due to injuries. They played their guts out and played well down the stretch.
When Garth Snow did not fire Jack Capuano this year, he was admitting fault for what happened this season. By standing pat and assuming the team he had was good enough, he didn’t give Capuano anything to work with to produce results. As seen by his moves this year, he’s trying to right the ship. This year, Capuano does not get the leeway he got last year. I believe he will be on a short leash and Garth will not be afraid to cut the cord if they go on another November slide. Jack Capuano likes his team to play fast. He’s got the right personnel for this. He likes his team to battle hard, win the corner battles, and play with possession. This is where Grabovski comes in. He’s a possession player. He will fit right into this system. I believe, in all honesty, Garth made the right move in retaining Capuano. He will be the guy who leads this team into the playoffs and past the first round. The players love to play for him, and with the right guys in the right system with the proper motivation, that can be a deadly tool.