27° Good Afternoon
27° Good Afternoon

At least the Islanders found Capuano

Islanders coach Jack Capuano hopes he can remove

Islanders coach Jack Capuano hopes he can remove the "interim" tag from his title with a strong finish to the season. Credit: AP

There were many, many things that went wrong this Islanders season, a fourth straight that ended after game No. 82, a fourth straight with a top-five draft pick.

The insane injury bug tops the list, but it goes on down from there: The 1-17-3 skid that cost Scott Gordon his job, the four-figure crowds at the Coliseum on too many nights, the fresh indignities piled on from officials and opponents.

It all adds up, and this still is a team with a lot of work to do to restore pride among its loyal fans and respect among those around the league who equate an old, rundown building with second-class minds in the front office and behind the bench.

The best things going for Garth Snow and the Islanders have been the surprises, from Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen emerging as a potent second-line duo to Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic becoming a more-than-capable young defense pair.

There's also Jack Capuano. He was dismissed -- here as well as elsewhere -- as a place-holder when Gordon was fired Nov. 15. A guy without much of a coaching pedigree, with an unassuming style and, most important, with a contract already owned by the Islanders, Capuano was thought to be someone who could run out the clock on a lost season before Snow got to work finding a successor.

Well, Snow found his man, accidentally or otherwise. All indications around the organization are that Capuano's contract extension will be announced this week and that Snow has known for a good, long while that Capuano, who spent his four-month interim term as a guest of the Snows, needs to look for more permanent housing for next season and beyond.

Snow and Capuano would not comment as the Islanders packed up their gear at the Coliseum Sunday.

It's the right move. Capuano's Islanders were 26-29-10; with the 1-8-2 start factored in, it's more than respectable. But even more important to the future of the team Snow has constructed is Capuano's manner with its young talent.

John Tavares and Josh Bailey had their moments with Gordon, whose unforgiving style surely helped both players understand the way you have to play to succeed in the NHL. Capuano, though no less demanding of two-way play, delivers his messages with a softer edge.

That may not seem like much, but it's clicked with this group; Tavares has relaxed and matured on and off the ice this season and Bailey, after the surprise of his month's demotion after Capuano's arrival, has begun to get what he has to do to stay with the big club, even if the numbers weren't there.

It will be interesting to see how Capuano handles the numerous veterans who didn't get to play much or at all for him. Defense and goaltending wins games in this NHL, and the Islanders used more players at each position than any other team in the league. In his first full training camp, Capuano might have 10 NHL-ready defensemen and five goalies with experience, even if Rick DiPietro doesn't think there's much in the way of competition.

The last thing the Islanders needed these next few weeks was a coaching search, and possibly a new direction to adjust to. Capuano has earned his forthcoming contract and the Islanders have a chance to hit the offseason running.


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