Even before the end of the third period (or the second period, or right at the end of first period) of Monday night’s tilt between the Islanders and Lightning two things were clear: 1) the Isles have to fire Jack Capuano and use the three days off before Pittsburgh to regroup, and 2) firing Jack Capuano would not have scored five goals for the Isles tonight nor would it have stopped them from ceding four.
The Islanders are very much a flawed team. The defense finds itself out of position far too often—the third goal tonight, an even strength 3 on 3 that looked like a 3 on 1, is the perfect example of players caught facing the wrong way or without a handle on where the puck is.
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) November 15, 2016
Now some of the blame tonight, whether the 2 goal onslaught to end the first period or the breakdown at the end of the second, has to fall squarely on the Islanders getting out-played on the ice. The islanders team Fenwick percentage before tonight’s game—and I can only imagine it fell further after tonight—was fourth worst in the NHL. Their team corsi percentage is even worse, third to last in the league. John Tavares’s production is not where it needs to be, the forwards don’t possess the puck in the neutral zone, and too much of the scoring has come from the back line (which is more an indictment of the forwards than defensemen). The defensemen are not blameless either though, they’ve given up too many fast breaks, and the goalies have been at best inconsistent and at worst have lost the Islanders games.
But a huge part of the problem is coaching. At least some of the above is attributable to a lack of energy, which is a catch-22 in some ways because it takes wins to generate energy and energy to generate wins. Maybe a change in coaching might help generate some energy though. Elsewhere, part of the problem is also a lack of chemistry caused by constantly see-sawing lines and combinations, which is partially the fault of injuries, but just as much the fault of, you guessed it, coaching. More than anything, the team lacks confidence. Last year, especially down the stretch, no deficit seemed insurmountable. This year, a one goal lead late in the third feels like it’s insurmountable—game after game after game the Islanders snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And when they aren’t blowing close leads, they’re either getting blown out or, more rarely, blowing their opponent out. But the one thing they do not do, which good teams always do, is win close games. And that has to be attributed to coaching.
With the coaching failing to spark the players and the players failing to bail out the coaching, a change has to come. Adding someone from outside the team in the middle of the season would make for a difficult transition—three days off is a long break between games but not much time to learn a new system or get accustomed to a new coach. Could a wild card like Patrick Roy light a fire under the team? Maybe. But it doesn’t seem like the most likely option. That being said, the internal options to replace Capuano are not great.
Dough Weight feels to me like the most logical fit; he’s energetic and passionate and played for the team recently enough that you hope he can connect to the players and motivate them. But he has no head coaching experience at any level and has only been an assistant under Capuano. Weight “learning” from Capuano begs the question whether he has really learned anything at all.
Bob Corkum is in his third season as an assistant coach with the organization and was an associate coach for the University of Maine squad. All of the question-marks that make Weight an imperfect choice are just as present for Corkum, and he doesn’t have the same history with the organization and is more far-removed from his time as a player, which, if you’re looking for someone to kick the team into gear, could be either a good thing or bad thing.
The Sound Tigers head coach, Brent Thompson, has been a head coach in Bridgeport for three seasons—in his fourth now—and also was an assistant with the Isles between his two tenures in Bridgeport. His record for the Sound Tigers is respectable, 117-99-14 (I think, don’t check the math). He’s also been a head coach in the ECHL—where he posted a strong 83-50-11 record. In addition to having head coaching experience that no current Islanders assistant coach has, Thompson also knows at least some of the young guns who has been firing blanks thus far; Anders Lee, Alan Quine and Ryan Strome have all spent at least some time playing for Thompson in Bridgeport. But even Thompson hasn’t escaped scrutiny amidst the Islanders coaching criticism this offseason: he came under fire last week for healthy scratching future all-time great Josh Ho-Sang because Ho-Sang wasn’t skating straight enough.
Healthy scratch tonight. Getting the night off. https://t.co/JLAJ8TmECZ
— The Sound Tigers (@TheSoundTigers) November 11, 2016
None of the three is—to mix sports metaphors—a slam dunk and none would be a guarantee to trade the interim tag that is likely impending for a permanent gig. After all, the last interim head coach the Islanders had was Jack Capuano. Many fans—even with the franchise’s first playoff series win since before Josh Ho-Sang was born coming under Capuano’s tenure—wish Cappy had never gotten the permanent gig in the first place.
And when all is said and done after 2016-2017, even a playoff win shouldn’t be enough to guarantee the new coach sticks. While that may seem shortsighted to say before the season is over, the coaching change now has to be the first, but not last, step in a change that includes firing Garth Snow. The roster is a mess, and the only way to ensure the Captain’s C stays on the front of the #91 jersey is to infuse that roster with talent. Snow couldn’t get that done this offseason and has to go. And whomever replaces Garth also deserves to be able to make the decision whether to “party on” with Weight or Thompson or whether to look outside the organization.
Yes, the writing is on the wall.
The fans know it.
— Jordan Greif (@JordanGreif) November 2, 2016
Rick DiPietro’s suit knows it.
Rick DiPietro with an…interesting….jacket selection. pic.twitter.com/rMDjShAdFK
— Adam Scully (@adam_scully) November 15, 2016
And Mandy Patinkin knows it.
Jack Capuano, we wish we hardly knew you.