By B.D. Gallof
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As I said on Twitter earlier this week — and I’ll say it here — if the Islanders’ losing ways continue to teeter them over the abyss, coach Jack Capauno will begin to feel some heat.
I took it one step further Wednesday. He might have just two games to notch a win. No coach lives comfortably with a multi-game losing streak. Seven in a row could be the last straw for Capuano here in Islanders Country. It won’t be easy against the Rangers at the Garden — again — and then at home versus the Devils.
It’s quite evident this is not the same team we saw in late January. I’ll list some stats at the bottom of this post. Too much needs to be said to focus on numbers. We all know they are miserable.
Reaction from Islanders fans was shrill even after the third straight loss. Everything since has been an avalanche of frustration. So let’s cut through some of it:
— Those who tout the negatives will use this losing streak to argue the glass-mostly-empty debate. This team was built to fail, owner Charles Wang won’t spend and nobody wants to win. I will tell you, that’s far from the case — there’s a growing frustration on product-versus-expectation.
— Those who tout the positives will say the glass is mostly full; the Isles could have won a couple of those games and just need to break out again. Yeah, well, that’s not going to fly either. Something is unraveling the team, and it’s not just bad luck.
— Then there are those who consider each half of the glass, concerned that both arguments make up the in-flux Islanders. “Flux” won’t wash. It can’t stay this way, and a sudden switch back on to playing with energy and swagger seems to be a pipe dream.
There seems to be pressure to step up from the Islanders. It’s not just the fans’ perception. I believe this is Charles’ own perception. He wants results to show for his rebuilding crusade. The expectation gives sway to the heavy rumors of the Islanders going to Brooklyn at LEAST one year earlier than the end 2014-15 season. We can surmise as to the reasons for the pressure. Of course, you might then declare, “Why in hell isn’t Charles Wang spending?”
1. Venue certainty didn’t become reality until last fall, long after free agency and trade upticks.
2. The Isles lose money each year in Nassau.
As for the “Garth Snow Must Go” crew:
1. The budget given by Charles: Notice the waiver pickups. There was a reason for those, and it doesn’t seem by chance or that Garth likes thrift stores. I think it’s because there are severe limitations to what can be spent.
2. Most rebuilding chips are not slated to arrive until next season. Ryan Strome, Nino Niederriter, Reinhart, Donovan, de Haan, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee (might see him later this season) and more are coming soon. How can one judge an NHL rebuild without the pieces on the ice? You can’t. Plus, who is going to suddenly come in as general manager, following Charles’ vision and budget? Sorry, there are no magic pills. The Isles are committed to this tract and must see it through.
Whatever the amount in the glass, if the losing continues, the coach will find himself on the chopping block. There’s simply no choice. A free-fall to the levels we saw in previous years will not be tolerated, whether the players like the coach or not. Scott Gordon wrote himself out of Long Island two years ago. The players believe in Jack Capuano, but believing and performance are two different things, and the Islanders have to get themselves out of this tailspin.
There are no answers in promoting one of the assistants: Brent Thompson or Doug Weight. After all, Weight has no coaching experience whatsoever and is learning on the fly. Meanwhile, Thompson being tapped for coach would really no different than when Cappy took over. Islanders fans would just be hoping for a different result. I think both would be a poor choices, and neither would assure improvement.
Very few tried-and-true coaches are available. One would need to be found. My own thought is Marc Crawford, a Cup-winning coach who Garth Snow is very familiar with. Crawford coached Garth when he was a goalie in Vancouver.
However, the coaching job is not up for grabs just yet, and won’t be if the team can recover. But it has to happen VERY soon. Time is running out.
There’s a point when development becomes about the win-loss column. The expectation this season is that the Islanders need to compete for a playoff spot. No matter the melodrama or conjecture by fans, Garth has said as much, that there’s enough talent on the roster to make a run at the very least.
Add some solid waiver-wire additions, and there should be no excuses. The best player outside of the top line has been Brian Strait over the last few games.
We all knew the special-team percentages, so incredible at one point, would drop. But the 5-on-5 play, despite the special teams, was a concern even when they were winning. In the last few games it has gotten worse. This will determine the Islanders’ true growth, and a lack thereof might be enough to show Capuano the door. It must change, and the scoring of the team must derive from more than the top line. Otherwise, strap yourselves in for a long season.
We already see that coming into play, as Michael Grabner was placed on the third line. Fans seem to be outraged by this, but seem to forget that most of Grabner’s offense comes from transition play, breakaways, and special teams — something still likely to happen in each game.
I wrote over summer that there was a belief Grabner might lend himself more as a third-line player, albeit a scoring third-liner, since the Isles have always wanted three scoring lines.
They want to see the players win the one-on-one battles, something that’s haunted them game-to-game. If you win one-on-one, you can score. That’s the bottom line.
As for fans waiting for the cavalry to arrive, well, there’s no rescue planned. Players deemed to need more time, guys planned for next season, are where the Isles think they belong. No trade is on tap. Despite rumors of trade talks with the Oilers and other teams, it has been said many times — here and elsewhere — that Garth talks to other GMs all the time. I wouldn’t expect much to change; no sudden deals to rescue the team. GMs who deal in a position of need and desperation are the ones over-paying. The Isles can’t afford to do that with so little working right now, and Garth doesn’t have a history of pulling off reactionary trades.
While Long Islanders might be up in arms over the situation, does it really matter to the board of governors and the owner, who are more concerned about the next step in Brooklyn? Isles fans want to see results, or at least youth, which has been an issue all season with Ryan Strome sent back the OHL, and Donovan and Nino in the AHL.
So far, it’s been status quo — no youth and no trade.
What really might determine what the Islanders owner and GM are willing to do: How close are they from moving to Brooklyn? That might be the million-dollar question if there’s a key addition.
Otherwise, strap yourselves in for a wild ride.
12 Games – One-Quarter Of The Season Done:
Islanders’ goals-against average is 29th in the league at 3.58 per game. Only the Panthers are worse with 3.83.
Goalie save percentage has plummeted during the losing streak. Nabokov went from .923 versus the Devils to .800 versus Buffalo. Not pretty.
The power play stuttered but is back on track at 25.5 percent, tied for 4th in the NHL. Sobering issue: they’re tied with the hapless Capitals. Both struggling teams stand as reminders that as good as the power play might be, it doesn’t mean much to the bottom line.
5-on-5 reality bites: Islanders are 28th out of 30 in the 5-on-5 goals for-goals against ratio. Their forwards are losing the one-on-one battles. The defense hasn’t held strong. The goalies have faltered. The team, as byproduct, is in disarray.
We will revisit these stats at the next one-eighth mark — in 6 more games. Might things be better then? Hopefully there will be less of the sad, forlorn looks from Islanders fans watching their team flail on the ice.
Will the Isles turn things around, or is Capuano as good as gone? Islanders fans, sound off in the comments…