Jack Capuano has been an easy target for most of his tenure with the New York Islanders, and understandably so with how bad the team has been for most of it his time in Uniondale. After jumping out to a 12-6-0 start, it’s really time to start showing him some love.
Islanders fans seemed to accept the Head Coach after the lockout-shortened season in which the Islanders inexplicably made the playoffs and challenged the Penguins in an exciting and close series. They weren’t able to advance into the second round, but hopes were high on Long Island that this team had a chance at another run.
Things fell apart last season. Vanek was acquired and eventually traded, Tavares got hurt, Okposo was the only winger (not named Vanek) who showed up consistently, and the goaltending was terrible. Nabokov, who played well in the lockout campaign but fell flat on his face in the playoffs, was absolutely abysmal for the Islanders in the following season. His Goals Saved Above Average was -9.51, better than only one starter: Ondrej Pavalec. For reference, Martin Brodeur was also below Nabokov, but with 39 appearances I can’t call him a starter.
Fans wanted his head, I felt he could be a good coach with the right group of players. It seemed like fans were overrating the group they had in front of them, as realistically if Capuano had led the team to the playoffs last season it would have been a miracle.
Two factors that have been big for this team’s winning ways:
1) They’re not blowing leads anymore – This has been a problem for years with the Islanders, and it seems like it’s been especially bad under Capuano. This year, the Islanders have taken leads into the third period six times. They’re a perfect 6-0-0. This puts their record when tied or trailing after 2 at 6-6-0, which is pretty mediocre but not a point for concern.
2) They’re winning the close games – In one-goal games, the Islanders are 7-1-0. Adding Boychuk and Leddy, two experienced defensemen, is certainly a big reason for this. They’re able to buckle down when they need to, and they can hold onto their one-goal leads. The other reason is that Capuano finally has a core with enough experience to handle the big moment. Coaching in these situations is huge. Capuano has stepped up.
And let’s be honest guys, isn’t Capuano someone you want to root for?
A guy who grew up playing hockey in small town Rhode Island, just a short trip from the Island he coaches on now, is the kind of guy you root for in the hockey world. Capuano grinded through his career at the University of Maine, and then spent years trying to make it as a pro in the AHL and IHL, with those handful of NHL games here and there. He cut his teeth as a coach in Minor Pro hockey from 1996 to 2010 before the Islanders gave him the job. His story is interesting, and inspiring for those fringe guys who have been working for years to make a name for themselves in the hockey world.
He certainly is a guy his players respect. When you look through the rosters of guys he’s coached with the Islanders, he’s made a lot of average players look better. Do you think Matt Martin is as successful if he plays for a different coach? What about Casey Cizikas? Capuano made the decision to sit Cizikas just a couple of weeks ago and was criticized, but Cizikas has come back and scored two goals in five games since his benching. Capuano does a great job of getting the best out of his bottom-six night in and night out. His ability to motivate and work with these players is why this team’s bottom-six has been maybe the best in hockey this season.
If you still are part of the anti-Capuano crowd, I’d love to hear why. If you want Capuano gone, who do you replace him with? I don’t see any coaches sitting at home that could do a better job with this team than Captain Jack.
Capuano has done a great job with this club so far. We’re not even a quarter into the season, but the team is sitting third in the Eastern Conference and just three points out of the top spot in Metropolitan Division. Oh yeah, and they’re about to start a home-and-home with that Penguins team sitting above them. That one’s sure turned into a fun rivalry, hasn’t it?