PITTSBURGH - It's fair to wonder if a team with a brand-new captain and no core regulars over the age of 30 has enough leadership to drag itself out of a funk.
Jack Capuano doesn't think his Islanders are irreparably damaged in that area. Like his players have often said, Capuano has seen the bulk of this current team pull itself up and play better and smarter. The current 2-6-0 slide that has the Isles looking up at just about everyone in the Metropolitan Division has been damaging, but the coach still has faith in his room.
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"I think they understand what it takes," Capuano said after the Isles arrived here from Toronto Thursday, preparing to face the Penguins Friday night and the Flyers in Philadelphia Saturday. "It's hard, there's no question. Every night you have to battle for every inch.
"I like the leadership we have, the character we have. It's going to have to come from within if we're going to get out of this."
The Islanders will get Thomas Vanek back in the lineup Friday night after he missed the last five games -- really six, since he left the Nov. 9 loss in Columbus with a strained upper-body muscle after just 30 seconds. Michael Grabner, a rare healthy scratch on Tuesday in Toronto, will likely go back in.
That will change some of the bodies, but the mindset is what most has to change. The Isles have not had innumerable lapses, but the ones they have had were costly. The penalty-killing unit is downright bad, having been successful just 71.6 percent of the time, ranked last in the league. The loss in Toronto featured a missed assignment on the opening shift of the game and some dispirited play in the final period as well as another power-play goal against, the 12th allowed in the last nine games.
That led to a longer-than-normal closed door to the visitors dressing room, though it was not a players-only meeting as first speculated. Capuano is not one to ever divulge his private comments publicly nor go to the paint-peeling speeches often.
"If we as coaches have to try and motivate our guys at a time like this, something's not right," he said. "You're always going to have ups and downs. It's how you handle them that makes a difference in this league."