Is Jack Capuano On The Islanders Hot Seat?

Many were immediately calling for the removal of head coach Jack Capuano at the start of the season once the New York Islanders' record began to slip from 3-1-0 to way below .500. However, there were some, like myself, who argued that it was premature to blame the coaching staff for the poor start due to the fact that the roster from last season hadn't changed much and for one other simple fact - the season was still young. (Photo Credit: Robert Kowal/Flickr)

Since then the Islanders have managed to be a consistent below .500 team. They have come close on a few occasions from jumping over the hurdle but would then find a way to take two steps back after taking one step forward. This past week has been the most disheartening of the year for Isles fans in relation to how the team has continued to perform. Not only have they lost games, but they have done it with such depression that even the U.S. economy cringed.

Three of the last eight games saw the Islanders either blow a three-goal lead or lose the game in the final few minutes of the third period. It started when the Islanders went into the second period against the Washington Capitals with a 2-0 lead on February 28th. The Caps would score two goals in the final three minutes of the game and then go on to have Alexander Ovechkin score the early game winning goal in the extra frame. The Islanders also had a 1-0 lead against the New Jersey Devils just this past Saturday, only to see their opponent score two goals just 14 seconds apart in the final two minutes of the hockey game. And most recently, the Islanders blew a 4-1 lead last night against the Caps to lose 5-4 in the shootout.

Last night's loss was the Islanders league-leading ninth loss of the season after leading after two periods. Think about it, those are games that the Islanders were only twenty minutes away from winning. Those nine games, had they all been wins, would have been the difference maker in playoff positioning right now. Even if they won the majority of those games, we would still be discussing who the Islanders could be facing in the first round if they held out for a strong finish to the regular season. Instead we are once again looking at a top-five draft pick.

The Islanders have changed coaches many times over the past decade, but only twice under General Manager Garth Snow. Keep in mind that Ted Nolan, the first coach that Snow fired, was never actually chosen by Snow; he was chosen by Wang during the forty day run of Neil Smith. It wasn't surprising to anyone that Snow and Nolan contained different ideologies that would eventually lead to Snow pulling out the axe.

Scott Gordon's system was flawed from the start, causing his own players to call it out publicly such as when Brendan Witt voiced his opinion on the way the defense participated in the rush. After a terrible start to his second season behind the bench, Jack Capuano came in to turn things around - and he did. But he has been unable to sustain that type of commitment from his players this year.

Those three losses - better yet, those nine losses are an indication that this team has not learned how to win hockey games yet. That's the job of an NHL coach; to serve as a mentor as well as the man who develops an operating system on the ice. The problem is that Jack Capuano is learning the ropes of the NHL game behind the bench as well. If you disagree, then explain why Capuano has pulled his net-minder with three minutes remaining or more when down two goals in the third period? I have never seen another NHL coach pull that type of play in a regular season game.

I can bring up the way that Nino Niederreiter has been handled so far, but it's been beaten to a bloody pulp. The fact of the matter is that plenty of NHL stars started on the fourth line before they made their way as top-six forwards. Joe Thornton comes to mind immediately, as previously pointed out by Snow. Will Niederreiter be that type of player? It's too early to tell because he is only 19 years old. He also did not have the hype around him like John Tavares did at his age, so it's unfair to expect the world of him early in his career. The only thing that is certain was that he was way above the WHL game and needed to play professional hockey. Snow has stated in his interview with Dee Karl that he would have liked to place Nino in Bridgeport, but that wasn't possible. Therefore, it's unfair to blame Capuano for Niederreiter's play. He has been using a player that was only AHL ready in NHL games. Fourth line minutes do make the most sense for a player of that caliber, to learn the game without having too much responsibility.

But that doesn't excuse the fact that the lines weren't tinkered with until the losses were piled up as high as a mountain. Everyone got to watch Blake Comeau, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen not score goals while playing with the same line mates each night for what felt like forever. It doesn't explain why Anders Nilsson was given his first start of the season in Pittsburgh the night that Sidney Crosby made his much anticipated return to the NHL. And most importantly, it doesn't explain why the Islanders have the league's third worst offense and have been scored on by the first shot from their opponent not once, but several times this year. It's a sign that the system might be failing and that the players have come out unmotivated too many times for this team to be successful.

There comes a point where players have to hold themselves accountable, but a coach also has to find a way to get the most out of his players. As a prospective teacher, I can tell you that every individual, whether you be a student or a hockey player, learns differently. If Capuano tries to reach each player the same way, if Capuano is trying to motivate each of his players with the same words and the same techniques, then there lies the problem. I can't say I see how the head coach talks to his team and addresses them after losses, but the fact that he uses almost the same words in each of his post-games and never seems to be emotionally frustrated after a loss is a worrisome sign. (Photo Credit: Robert Kowal/Flickr)

The bigger problem is what would happen behind the bench if Capuano were to be let go? Do the Isles look to another inexperienced NHL coach in Doug Weight who is only in his first year as an assistant coach? Do they look to Bridgeport again and bring up Brent Thompson, who is only in his first year as an AHL head coach as well? They can try to find other candidates with NHL coaching resumes that are above these two, but it's unknown if they would want to come here. Joel Quenneville was asked to come in for an interview before the Isles hired Scott Gordon. Personally, after seeing what he had done with the St. Louis Blues for so long, I was hoping he would be the Isles guy. He declined to interview saying that he was going to take the year off from coaching. It was only a few months later that he changed his mind when the Chicago Blackhawks came knocking on his door.

Jack Capuano may very well be behind the bench next season. If he isn't responsible for all of the problems mentioned above, then management and the coaching staff have to decide who is, because this rebuild will drag on a lot longer than predicted if some things don't change for the better.

-Rob McGowan


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