New York Islanders: The Failures of Jack Capuano

Mar 15, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano (rear) reacts on the bench against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 2-1 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 15, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano (rear) reacts on the bench against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 2-1 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Two straight 100+ point seasons and a playoff series win don’t give Jack Capuano a pass when it comes to his job managing the New York Islanders.

New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow is sticking with his coaching staff. On paper, it doesn’t seem like a bad choice but look a little deeper. Here’s why Jack Capuano won’t take this team further. Unless of course, Snow makes magic again and brings in Steven Stamkos.

1. The Barry Trotz effect.

Alexander Ovechkin has been a superstar in the NHL since his Calder winning rookie season. Offensively he’s dominated the game, but he still had knocks against him – defensive flaws, work ethic, laziness. Barry Trotz went to Washington and elevated Ovechkin’s game. Trotz helped make Ovechkin a different player.

John Tavares is a superstar. He is one of the best in the world and as crazy as it sounds, the New York Islanders have only scratched the surface of his brilliance. They’ve gotten a taste of it season after season as he’s grown and gotten better. While this regular season wasn’t a step up from last, the Islanders got a six-game playoff series that was all Tavares, his skill, and absolute will.

Tavares isn’t without flaws and seeing him miss coverage in the defensive zone on a big play isn’t an aberration. As respected as Jack Capuano is in the Islanders’s room, he’s taken Tavares as far he can and it’s a disservice to the Islanders’ captain to accept and continue with that.

2.  The undervaluing of Johnny Boychuk’s offensive weapons and the most frustrating power play in the NHL.

Johnny Boychuk’s first goal as a New York Islander was a power play goal. Boychuk’s second goal as a New York Islander – two games later – was a power play goal. Johnny Boychuk’s third goal as an Islander was – wait for it, because this is that shocking – a power play goal.

The Islanders actually have a complement of talent, especially on the power play, but that talent is under-utilized. There is no argument that Nick Leddy is a skater, a puck handler, and the guy to manage the zone entry. Boychuk, however, has a shot built for the power play. He’s smart and gets pucks towards the net.

The Islanders power play is a stationary animal. The puck spends too much time on the outside with five or six extra passes rather than shots even towards the net. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Capuano and his staff fall right into that category when it comes to this power play.

3. The Brian Strait perplexity

There was a time that Brian Strait made a difference on the Islanders’ blue line. Say that out loud and then think about a time when Andrew MacDonald was the number two guy and Brian Strait actually brought some defensive stability to the team. It happened, it really did, but it was a blip on the radar, a time so short it’s virtually forgotten because Garth Snow made magic. He made magic and brought in Boychuk and Leddy and the landscape on the back end changed.

For a time, Griffin Reinhart, who has since been flipped for Mathew Barzal, was hope in the system, but a kid named Ryan Pulock showcased his 100+ mile per hour slapshot and fans began salivating at the idea of this defense. Pulock, unfortunately, spent the majority of the season with Bridgeport and Brian Strait played 52 games. Pulock only really saw an opportunity to play when Calvin deHaan, Adam Pelech, and Strait were down with injury.

On the upside, Pulock made the most of his opportunity and a strong playoff performance especially should make it impossible to keep him from the top six. 

4. The coddling of Brock Nelson and mishandling of Ryan Strome

Brock Nelson is a goal scorer. In each of the last two seasons, Nelson’s scored twenty or more goals and some of them were beauties. Some of them came at pretty big times in games, against some pretty tough teams. When he’s on, he’s really on, and an integral part of the Islanders’ offense.

The problem with Brock Nelson is that when he’s not scoring goals, when he’s off, he’s invisible. He’s a part of a problem middle two lines that provided little consistency through the season and he played every game but one.

While Nelson played every game but one, Ryan Strome was sent to Bridgeport for a stint and then made a healthy scratch during the playoffs. Capuano is quick to sit Strome, where Nelson continues to get ice time despite his inconsistencies. Strome didn’t have Nelson’s goal totals, though he was one of five Islanders forwards with above average possession numbers.

Strome is one of the Islanders’ young hopefuls but rather than aiding in his development, he’s getting put in time out.

5. Finding a way to win.

This should be a simple, positive thing. In the Islanders’ case, it’s not. The Islanders spent an entire season finding ways to win games they were lucky to be  (with thanks, for the most part, to Thomas Greiss) at all. The Islanders played too many games needing to ‘find their legs’ and looking flat. They hung in many for just long enough to sneak out a win.

They went on two bigger streaks at different points in the season where they racked up wins and points but they didn’t win these games with authority (drubbing of Edmonton aside). The first round of the playoffs is a prime example of that. They had a goalie who stood on his head and a driven superstar who won that series despite being outplayed at least 80 percent of the time (and that’s being kind).

The Islanders found ways to win games in which they were grossly outplayed and lost very few games they actually deserved to win (Tampa Bay series notwithstanding).

The Islanders hung around this year. With their final numbers, it seems like a ludicrous thing to say but look deeper. The team did just enough to cover up the actual issues and winning that series against Florida was just enough for Capuano to keep his job.

Next: The Pursuit of Steven Stamkos

It felt real good in the moment, but unless Snow pulls another rabbit out of his hat, getting another one of those moments – or several of them in one playoff season – isn’t likely.