The players defended the coach. The coach defended himself and the players. So no one was pointing fingers Monday night after the latest Islanders debacle, a 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning that left the Isles still searching for answers with three nervous days off coming.
“If I get what you’re implying, and I think I do, the answer is no,” Cal Clutterbuck said when asked if something fundamental needs to change with his team, which is 5-8-3 overall and 2-5-3 in its last 10. “It’s just . . . No.
“It’s something different every night, it seems. We fix one thing and something else lets you down. But everything is fixable.”
The season isn’t even one-quarter over, but the questions about Jack Capuano’s job security and the status of a number of underachieving players are perfectly legitimate.
No Islander bristled at being asked, but after a decent opening 18 minutes quickly devolved into a 2-0 deficit after a period, there seemed to be an air of resignation after the Lightning dismissed the Islanders for the third time in 13 days by a 14-2 total score.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with them or their approach to the team,” John Tavares said of the coaching staff. “I have confidence in our group, in our staff. It comes down to the guys stepping on the ice and playing to our identity, playing the way we know we can play.”
The two goals in the final 1:02 of the first, from J.T. Brown and Ryan Callahan, brought out the discontent in the Barclays Center crowd. There were boos. There were calls for Capuano’s job.
And after Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos undressed a few Islanders to produce two more goals in the second period, there were swaths of empty seats to start the third where fans had been sitting for the first 40 minutes.
Capuano shouldered the blame, repeatedly saying after the loss that it’s on him to find offense from a group that has scored two or fewer goals in nine of 16 games.
“It’s on me,” he said. “We have the players in there who can score goals. I have to find the right combinations to find some offense. We’ve been able to do that in the past as a staff. We just have to find a way to get some offense, and that’s on me.”
The Islanders do not play again until the Penguins come to Barclays Center on Friday.
General manager Garth Snow is in Toronto for the next two days, so perhaps he will look to address his team’s deficiencies with a trade rather than a coaching change.
But everything is on the table now with the Islanders only a point out of last place in the Eastern Conference standings.
At least they’re done with the Lightning for the season, but the six late third-period goals they’ve given up to either send games to overtime or lose them outright in their other 13 games leaves them no margin for error.
The Islanders threw 20 shots on Andrei Vasilevskiy in the third period (34 for the game) to make the Lightning goaltender’s shutout seem more impressive. But the game was done by then.
“We’re not a team that should be losing games by more than a goal,” Clutterbuck said. “That’s not this group. We’ve got the players in here to turn this around.”