The New York Islanders are on target to clinch their second-consecutive playoff berth for the first time since the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Their path to a potential berth has been, to say the least, uneven. One theory posed by someone has injuries playing a big part of their struggles. That person, head coach Jack Capuano.
Capuano feels the team has not gotten the credit they deserve for their 41-win season.
Nobody gives this team any credit, there’s some other teams that have had some significant injuries, they struggled. These guys have struggled, but they’re competing and they’re right in the race. That’s what I like about this group. They’re battling hard every single day [in] practice, games.
It would seem that Capuano is already laying the groundwork for an excuse in case of an early postseason exit, or worst-case scenario failing to secure a playoff berth. This is a card Capuano has rarely played in his six seasons as head coach. Does he have a point? Every team in the league deals with injuries. The President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals persevered through injuries to John Carlson, Jay Beagle, Brooks Orpik and Marcus Johansson. All missing significant time. Keeping a team healthy is key to a successful season. This is not breaking news.
The Islanders have lost 208 man games to injury, which ranks 17th in the NHL. Four teams (Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, St Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning) who if the season ended today would make the playoffs, all have lost more man games to injury than the Islanders. Last season the Islanders had their first 100-point season for the first time since the Reagan administration lost 280 man games to injury, which ranked 10th in the NHL.
In three weeks, the Islanders have gone from competing for home ice in the first round of the playoffs with the Rangers to wild-card status in the Eastern Conference. The Pittsburgh Penguins, who lost Evgeni Malkin on March 12th for six-to-eights have leapfrogged the Islanders in the standings. Capuano cited injuries to goalie Jaroslav Halak, center Mikhail Grabovski and defensemen Marek Zidlicky and Adam Pelech for their struggles.
Lets start with Halak, who suffered a groin injury March 8th against the Penguins and is out until the second round of the playoffs. New York had the luxury of inserting Thomas Greiss into the lineup. Greiss is having a career season. He has set career highs with 20 wins in 34 starts and currently fourth in the league with a .925 save percentage. There were times this season that Greiss even supplanted Halak as the team’s number one goalie. To soften the blow of Halak’s loss even more has been the emergence of Jean-Francois Berube, who was claimed off of waivers from the Los Angeles Kings prior to the start of the season. Berube is 3-1-1 in his five starts with a 2.30 GAA and .927 save percentage.
Grabovski has been a disappointment since signing a 4-year contract worth $20 million dollars back on July 1, 2014. Grabovski has been out since March 17th with concussion-like symptoms. The 32-year-old has missed 17 games this season. He missed 31 games a season ago. Grabovski has scored a total of 18 goals in 108 games with the Islanders.
Zidlicky was brought in as a replacement to Lubomir Visnovsky to provide a spark to the power play. He has done little to do that and is a defensive liability. Rookie Adam Pelech played just seven games in his young NHL career and has been out since January 17th with an illness. Pelech has resumed practicing and could be sent to Bridgeport for a conditioning stint.
New York has five players (Nick Leddy, Nikolay Kulemin, Anders Lee, Matt Martin and Frans Nielsen) who have played in all 75 games this season. Brock Nelson has played 74 games and was a healthy scratched for one. Last season just three (John Tavares, Kulemin and Nelson) played in all 82 games.
The team also has dealt with injuries to Travis Hamonic, Johnny Boychuk and John Tavares, who missed three games in November with the flu. Hamonic missed four games and Boychuk missed 11 games this season after suffering a shoulder injury New Year’s Eve in Buffalo. If Boychuk plays the final eight games he will play in 72 games, the same amount as last season.
Whether Capuano truly believes his comments or is using them as motivation for his players remains to be seen. Truly the only way the Islanders will get the recognition that Capuano feels they deserve is to advance in the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
Noel Fogelman is a 5-time Emmy Winner and started his career working on the Buffalo Sabres Pre and postgame shows for the Empire Sports Network. He then went to Bristol, CT to work at ESPN on NHL2Night and its coverage of the Stanley Cup. Follow me on Twiter @thefirstnoel19