The thought that Jack Capuano could reach 300 games behind the Islanders bench has, at times over his five seasons, seemed an impossible milestone to achieve.
Wednesday night, Capuano reaches 299 games with the Isles when the Capitals visit the Coliseum. No. 300 comes Friday on the Islanders' return visit to Washington, a mark that will surely raise some eyebrows among the fan base and around the NHL, given that Capuano came into the job in November 2010 with a modest resume to handle a team with a host of issues.
"You know what I'm gonna say: It's not about me, it never has been," Capuano said. "It's always about the guys in the room. I've tried to keep the same message from day one here."
It was a message that a youthful, inexperienced team that was sliding to the bottom of the Eastern Conference when Capuano took over from Scott Gordon 17 games into 2010-11 was perhaps not well-equipped to hear. And one playoff appearance in his three full seasons reflected that.
Capuano has preached accountability -- not to him or his coaching staff, but to the players in the locker room. He has had moments of intensity with his team, but what he's wanted and spoke about since he first took the job was having his players be tougher on each other and demand more.
"I think we're doing more of that this year," said Frans Nielsen, one of seven current Islanders who have been here for all of Capuano's tenure. "Cappy's been saying it for a lot of years now and I think this year he's been a little harder on us because he knows where the team is. He had to teach a little more the past few years."
That consistent approach from Capuano is what many on the outside have underestimated about Capuano, 48, who is widely believed to be the lowest-paid head coach in the NHL. He is a tireless worker and video watcher, a guy whose emotion hardly ever reveals itself in a negative way toward his players.
"He'll talk to you if you're not playing well, but you know he's got your back, too," Matt Martin said. "He's a player's coach and he's been that way for as long as I've known him. He wants us to believe in ourselves and he hasn't changed his message."
Now, on the verge of becoming only the second coach in Islanders history to reach 300 games -- of course, he was the second to reach 200 (Al Arbour coached 1,500) -- his team, 15-6-0 entering Wednesday night's game with the Capitals, seems to have gotten his message after a few rocky rides.
"They're great friends in there," Capuano said. "This is a very close team, it always has been. But to see them mature, to develop as players and as people, you start to see them put into practice the things we've been talking about. I'm real impressed with them."
Notes & quotes: Johnny Boychuk missed Tuesday's practice. Capuano called it a "maintenance day." Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey, who missed Monday's game with illnesses, practiced . . . The Isles dealt minor-league defenseman Andrey Pedan to the Canucks for a 2016 third-round pick and minor-league center Alexandre Mallet.