November 30, 2013

Why Tonight should be Cappy's Last Game

By Sean Croft

 "The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming." -Harvey Dent

Truer words have never been spoken, especially in regards to the New York Islanders, and the situation they are currently in. As of this moment, the Islanders are 8-15-3, 19 points: 14th in the Eastern Conference, 27th Overall, and yet, only 7 points out of the playoffs, with nearly three quarters of the season left to play. Should When we lose to the Capitals tonight, it will solidify another 4 win November. It will should also solidify the end of Jack Capuano's tenure here on the Island.

Earlier this season, after a sub-par start, we traded Matt Moulson to the Buffalo Sabres, along with draft picks, in exchange for superstar Thomas Vanek. At that time, GM Garth Snow said that the reason for the shake up was because of the poor start. He claimed that falling below .500 was unacceptable, and that a change needed to be made. In 10 games here, Vanek has 7 points (3 goals, 4 assist, +3), respectfully. He also has 4 points in the last 4 games, which given our performances lately, is nearly astonishing. In 14 games in Buffalo, Moulson has 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists). For the most part, the numbers are similar, but on paper, the impact that Vanek has had is going unrecognized. He skates well, carries the puck into the zone, and can pass as well as anyone. He also, for the most part, has found chemistry with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. With the exception of not pinching the boards in yesterdays game, and allowing the puck to clear the zone which lead to a shorthanded goal for Detroit, his play has been very good.

Why am I talking about this? Because, in my opinion, it shows that the Islanders organization, at the time of this trade, were showing us a commitment to winning. John Tavares needed a star to play with (amongst other things), and the Islanders needed to shake things up. This deal was on the table, and they jumped at it, under the guise of, we are better than this, and mediocrity is no longer acceptable. As polarizing as it was, they did it for the benefit of the team. Matt Moulson was a fan favorite, but found no chemistry with anyone except John Tavares. Moulson was fun to watch and great to have around, but ultimately, one-dimensional, and therefore, expendable. He was also a good locker room guy, and a perennial 30 goal scorer. If that guy was viewed as expendable, how can you justify sticking with Jack Capuano?

For a moment, let's look at Jack Capuano's resume as a head coach: 

As a head coach in the ECHL (Knoxville Cherokees, 1996-1997, and Pee Dee Pride, 1997-2001), he made the playoffs 3 out of 4 times, getting eliminated in the 2nd round (1998), 4th round (1999), and 3rd round (2001). When he took over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 2007, he took the team to the playoffs twice, both times being bumped out in the first round. He then took over the Islanders after the firing of Scott Gordon in 2010, and took us to the playoffs for the first time last year. Aside from the ECHL over a decade ago, Jack Capuano has not been able to lift a team out of the first round, and has only gotten to the playoffs 50% of the time.

Even in last year's playoff run, in which the Islanders played well against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the deficiencies behind the bench were apparent. The inability to match the lines at home when you have the advantage will always stand out to me. It was frustrating and confusing, as was the decision to stick with Evgeni Nabokov, over Kevin Poulin. Yes, Nabby kept us in a lot of games and was a big reason for our success, but it became clear that he couldn't carry the load in the playoffs. In 6 games, he posted a 4.44 goals against average, and was twice pulled from the net. In those two games, Kevin Poulin posted a GAA of 1.15.

Watching as many games as we do, we see this type of behavior night in, and night out. I was crying for half of the season to give Nabby a rest, because should we make the playoffs, he would be overworked, and we would have no chance of making it in. Still, he started 41 games, while Poulin started only 5. At Nabokov's age, this was a poor decision, and ultimately, probably cost us the series in the long run. The inability to match the lines properly is something that is a problem at every home game, as is the inability to call line changes. There is no reason to call for a line change when the Islanders are carrying the puck on the attack through the neutral zone, but it happens all of the time. Don't even get me started on the "too many men on the ice" penalties that this team can't seem to shake.

The scratching of Brock Nelson in recent weeks has been nothing but astonishing, if not insulting. Nelson seemed like he was coming into his own, filling the void that Thomas Vanek left on the first line during his injury, and was playing very well. He hustled, played physical, got pucks to the net, and most importantly, scored on the power play. His hard work gets rewarded with a spot in the press box, saved for the likes of the Rick DiPietros, Trevor Gillies, and Eric Boultons of the world, while players like Josh Bailey continue to contribute a ton of nothing to the team. Michael Grabner hasn't scored a goal since the first Obamacare website went live, but has missed minimal time. Granted, in my opinion, he has at least contributed a little bit. He is still getting pucks to the net, and has amped up his physical play, but ultimately, he is here to score goals, and he isn't doing it. Pierre-Marc Bouchard has found the net a few times, but typically, drops pucks back to no one, has long passes picked off, and gives opposing teams great chances. Again, there he is on most nights, whether you realize it or not.

If you want to discuss under utilizing players, let's talk about Thomas Vanek again for a moment. Thomas Vanek has scored double digit power play goals every season, except for last season, leading the league in power play goals (20) in 2008-2009. There are times, when you won't see him on the first power play line, despite his ability to finish on the power play. Tavares and Okposo, whom he has chemistry with, remain on that line. Blame Doug Weight all you want, and maybe he is to blame, but ultimately, Capuano is the head coach, not Weight. Last season, we had Brad Boyes on our team. Brad Boyes was NEVER used properly here. Boyes is a dirty goal, rebound and screen type of player. Where did they have him planted on most nights? On the point...just because someone has the ability to score 40 goals a year, doesn't mean they can snipe from anywhere on the ice. Frankly, it's almost juvenile to think that's a possibility.

Then there is the inability to admit that this system is a failure. In fact, an exact quote from Capuano 6 days ago was, "If it was structural or systematic, we'd change things as coaches, It's battles, it's wall positions and good sticks. That's part of every system. You can't do anything but win those battles". Wrong sir, you are wrong. Let's talk about wall positions for a moment. How often do you see four players go low, and one player play the point on a power play? Guess what happens when the opponent gets the puck? They chip is out to either side, and either get the puck out, or force the defenseman to scramble to save the puck, and have to get back in position, therefore, killing time off an already awful powerplay.

That is all about the system. The same system that doesn't shoot enough in general, changes lines in an inappropriate manner, and fails at matching players up properly. A system that puts Cal Clutterbuck AND Matt Martin on the same line, rather than space them out to protect more of our players. This statement is appalling, as is the constant defending our of lackluster defense. Capuano was a defenseman, so it comes as no surprise that he would defend those guys, but bad is bad, and right now, they are bad. Hearing him say things like "I'm not a goaltending guy" (you are the head coach, you are an everything guy), "It is what is it" (AKA, I got nothing), and "But we played hard, and skated hard" (AKA, I don't know why or see why), are plain alarming.

People tend to use the phrase "player's coach", and in this case, they have misused it. Rex Ryan, love him or hate him, is a player's coach. He gets along with his guys, and tends to give them a lot of freedom, but when they need a boot stuck "you know where", he does it. I will never forget the game when John Tavares took the dry-erase board from Cappy's hand and drew a big arrow at the net. He isn't a player's coach because he finds that fine-line between lenient and tough guy, it's because he gets pushed over, and therefore, doesn't put guys in their place. It's not a tactic, it's soft.

"You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain"- Harvey Dent

Jack Capuano's Islanders made the playoffs last season. Whether or not he had that much to do with it is something that has been debated for a long time. In my opinion, players like John Tavares, Evgeni Nabokov, Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and even Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey, are the reason why we made the playoffs. Their efforts, drive, and hunger is what got us there. Still though, Jack Capuano was the head coach whose team made the playoffs. Even so, it was no mystery to anyone that he was never going to be able to get us to the next level, and it would have been in the best interest of the team to move forward with an NHL coach (even though, we knew that wasn't actually going to happen.) Cappy was the "hero", who has lasted long enough to become the "villain".

If the Islanders organization is serious about winning, and if they respect the players, and this fanbase, then tonight should be Cappy's final game. Winning only 4 games in the month of November is unacceptable. There are no redeeming qualities in this current scenario. If this becomes acceptable, what kind of message does that send to these kids who have fought to give us something to be proud of, or to the fans who have stayed loyal?

-Sean Croft

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