Low-key Jack Capuano has Islanders on a high
Say this much for Jack Capuano's regular season: It sure ended a lot better than it began. He coached the Islanders into the playoffs after having missed Opening Night because of kidney stone surgery, which was followed less than two weeks later by a puck to the face during a game.
It also can be said that the one thing he finds almost as painful as a stone or stitches is talking about himself with his team preparing for a series opener against the top-seeded Penguins looming Wednesday night.
"It's all about the players this time of year," he said after practice at Nassau Coliseum Tuesday before the team left for Pittsburgh. "We'll guide them, we'll prepare them, but they have to go to battle and play within the team concept."
So he did not want to wax nostalgic about what a milestone it is for him, coaching his first Stanley Cup playoff game. He was focused on keeping the players focused, repeatedly saying, in these and similar words: "Not a whole lot is going to change in our preparation and how we're going to play."
That in itself, though, is a tribute to Capuano, who gave an example in resilience by showing up for work the afternoon after he was rushed to the hospital before the Jan. 20 opener because the stone was causing excruciating pain and a fever. He is not the type to give up or get ruffled.
"He's a great communicator, he gets along with the guys real well," John Tavares said. "Some [coaches] are more in your face. Jack is a guy who is positive, has a lot of energy, likes to have a lot of fun. He's been great for our group, mostly a younger team."
Capuano is stern and demanding when he must be. Tuesday, he worked the players extensively on the power play, including the 5-on-3 situation that was so fruitless during the last game against the Penguins. "We haven't been very good at all," he said of the extra-man specialty team.
With some prodding, the coach did reflect on how he got here: prep school in Connecticut, the Frozen Four as a player at the University of Maine, playing in the NHL, coaching in the minors, working in the Islanders' system when Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was an Islanders assistant coach.
Fairly quickly, Capuano caught himself, and said: "Let's realize that it's about the players now. It's about the guys who have worked extremely hard to put themselves in this position."