Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since 2002. Show More
Jack Capuano insists on structure and stability, except when he doesn't. After an Islanders loss, he will find a way to do everything differently, such as shuffling his lines or wearing a new tie.
That is just the way he is, which is the way he always has been, when he was growing up in Rhode Island or coaching the ECHL's Pee Dee Pride in Florence, South Carolina. He gets points for his own structure and stability, for being the same guy.
"He was the first coach I had when I was a pro and I had him as coach in under-17, so I've known him a long time," said Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo, who debuted for Capuano in Bridgeport seven years ago after playing for Capuano's U.S. national teen team in 2005.
As far as Okposo is concerned, the Capuano who was on the ice at practice Monday is the same Capuano who was behind the bench back then.
"He keeps pretty calm back there," he said. "He's a fiery individual, though. He really believes in his system and the way that we need to play. He's right; when we do play that way, we're a tough team to play against. He just wants to make sure that everybody is playing that way."
Capuano's first tenet of playoff coaching is that the playoffs are not about the coaches but about the players. He also knows there are exceptions, such as when the team loses. Then it's all on the coach. That comes with the territory.
He has been booed at Nassau Coliseum and thrashed on social media. But he must have pushed some of the right buttons this season, coaching the Islanders to a 31-year high of 101 points and to a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series against the Capitals.
He recognizes the difference between stability and flexibility and knows when to use the latter. Capuano improved the struggling penalty-killing unit by making it more aggressive. He helped his players overcome a late-season malaise by telling them how good they are.
"I think you can learn every day, from game one, whether it's the American League or the National Hockey League," he said at the Coliseum Monday. "A coach is no different from a player. You ask him to get better every day and I ask myself and my staff to do the same.
"We've had to make adjustments . . . That's where coaches come into play: the adjustments to try to defuse the opposition's strength. That's where you want to make sure you give your team the best chance to win a hockey game. After that, it's all about the guys, the way they compete and the way they sacrifice their bodies."
Which doesn't mean he is averse to tweaking his guys with the sense of humor that helped get him hired to the Islanders' staff 10 years ago by coach Steve Stirling.
A couple of years ago, John Tavares was booed by the crowd in Winnipeg and told me it was because the fans there pick on a top opposing player every game. Capuano, walking by, asked his superstar, "Then why were they booing you?"
The coach embraced and enjoyed this year of Islanders nostalgia. He never felt annoyed or distracted by it, the way at least one of his predecessors did (not mentioning any names, but you might see him between periods on NBC telecasts).
The biggest part of Capuano being Capuano is that he is intensely superstitious. In the game following a win, he almost always will stick with the same lineup, which is semi-practical. But he also will be adamant about doing his pregame radio interview while standing in the exact spot he did for the previous game. He most likely will wear the same necktie, too.
Observers swear that if the Islanders had won the first two road games of this series, when the team stayed well outside of Washington because of a dearth of hotel rooms, Capuano would have demanded the same distant accommodations for Game 5.
That's just the way he is. It is the way he always has been. It got the Islanders 101 points this season and two more wins, so far.