TORONTO -- Jack Capuano hasn't changed too much as a coach during his two-plus seasons with the Islanders. That's been a subtle but important part of the team's turnaround this season.
But that's not to say Capuano hasn't changed as a person since he took over the job 2 1/2 years ago.
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"I used to do some crazy stuff," Capuano told Newsday Wednesday about his years in the minors. That was just before his team flew here to begin the five-game road trip that will determine whether the Isles make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
"I've walked to center ice and bowed to the crowd, I've walked off the bench after two periods and waited on the bus for my team," Capuano said. "But I felt when I got here, this is the NHL -- you show respect to your players, to the officials, to your opponent, to the fans. And I've tried to stick to that."
Sticking to his philosophy has been a major point for Capuano as well. His restrained attitude on the bench is what the fans see; what his players see can be different. As happened last season, when after a particularly ugly 6-0 loss to the Bruins, Capuano called his players back into the locker room after the game, after the media had cleared out and the fans had gone home.
The coach handed one of his players the video remote and told them to watch a replay of the first period in which they were outshot 13-2 and outscored 3-0. Then Capuano left the room.
"Each year, each group of guys is different," Capuano said. "The most important thing you can do as a coach, I believe, is to know each of your guys and what makes them tick. Then you know how to handle things when it's going good or bad."
Capuano, then head coach of the Islanders' Bridgeport affiliate, was named to replace Scott Gordon on Nov. 15, 2010, without much fanfare or pedigree. Thursday's game here will be the 191st of Capuano's coaching tenure, tying him with Mike Milbury for second-most in Islanders history.
Tuesday's win over the Panthers was Capuano's 82nd as Isles coach (82-82-26), moving him ahead of Terry Simpson for second in Isles history. Those numbers say more about the franchise's history with coaches who are not Al Arbour than about Capuano, but it is still more success than most people would have expected from a 46-year-old coach who had toiled in places like Knoxville and Florence, S.C., for much of his coaching career.
But, just as his young players say they've accomplished nothing yet despite their best percentage record in six seasons, Capuano doesn't feel vindicated by quieting his doubters.
"When you hear from other coaches that your guys are working hard, that's a good thing," said Capuano, who was a minor-league teammate of Devils coach Peter DeBoer and Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau and is a longtime friend of Panthers coach Kevin Dineen. "But this is about the players. Us as coaches, we're not out there sacrificing our bodies to block a shot or taking a hit to make a play. The players are the ones who have earned whatever praise we've gotten."
On the subject of Capuano's contract status, neither he nor GM Garth Snow would comment. It was believed that Capuano's contract runs through this season, but Snow steadfastly refuses to reveal any information about his coach's status.
"He's been a pleasure to work with," was all Snow would say about Capuano.
Barring a terrible collapse over the next five games, Capuano's work with the Islanders would appear to be far from over.