The Islanders are pushing to make the playoffs but, coach Jack Capuano said Monday, failing to receive recognition for what they have accomplished with an injury-depleted team.
Referencing injuries to goalie Jaroslav Halak, center Mikhail Grabovski and defensemen Marek Zidlicky and Adam Pelech, he said, “We’ve got 40 wins this year. Nobody gives this team any credit. There’s some other teams that have had some significant injuries, they struggled. These guys have struggled, but they’re competing and they’re right in the race. That’s what I like about this group. They’re battling hard every single day [in] practice, games.’’
Capuano said he has not broached the recognition subject with his players. “They know in the room I don’t bring it up,’’ he said. “I don’t talk about it. I don’t talk about any of the things that I feel they might be thinking about that could be a distraction. I try to keep that out of the room and I try to focus on their work ethic and the things that we can control as a group. I just like the fact that we’ve been down a lot of bodies and no matter who we put in the lineup, they compete hard.’’
In three weeks, the Islanders have gone from competing for home ice in the first round of the playoffs with the Rangers to wild-card status in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers are second in the Metropolitan Division with 95 points and the Penguins, without injured star Evgeni Malkin, are third with 92, followed by the Islanders (89) and Flyers (87).
With eight games remaining, six at Barclays Center, the Islanders have not locked up a postseason berth, so talk of recognition may seem premature, but John Tavares said, “People never really have talked about it a whole lot in general ever since I’ve been here. So, not something I worry about.’’
Tavares does have his priorities straight.
“I think we worry about just trying to play,’’ he said. “Can [we] accomplish what we’re setting out to do? Obviously, make the playoffs. I think we believe we have a very good team. I think we proved a lot last year. We want to do better things this year in the playoffs and we’re working to get there, so I think that’s really the only focus.’’
Some of the Islanders spent part of Sunday evening monitoring the Rangers-Penguins game, won by the Penguins in overtime. A Rangers victory would have helped the Islanders.
“I think you could look at it a couple of different ways,’’ Tavares said. “Obviously, if the Rangers win in regulation and we win [Tuesday night], we jump the Penguins. We still have to play both. It’s really about us just trying to take care of our own business.’’
Matt Martin added, “I don’t know if you necessarily root for anyone. I think what you really root for is no three-point games, which obviously happened [Sunday] night. Bottom line is we can’t control those things. We just got to start playing strong hockey. We have eight games to really pick our game up and find a stride. We’ve been dealing with different sorts of pressure our whole lives in this sport and I think we understand that you can’t let that kind of take over. We’re not in the position we were a few weeks ago, it’s a tight race, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We’re playing very important hockey games that mean a lot for our team.’’
The Eastern Conference wild-card race:
WC spot Team Points Games left
1. Islanders 89 8
2. Flyers 87 7
Outside looking in
Red Wings 87 6
Hurricanes 81 6
Devils 80 6