After twenty consecutive years without a trip to the second round, including six consecutive failed first round appearances, the New York Islanders finally broke free from their first round demons in the 2016 NHL playoffs, defeating the Florida Panthers in six games.
The Islanders were on a high following John Tavares’ game six heroics, as he lifted the organization with two goals, including the game-winner in the series-clinching contest. Next up were the Tampa Bay Lightning, the defending Eastern Conference champions. New York took down the Lightning in Game 1, seemingly paving the way to continue on in their postseason run.
Instead, New York did what New York has been known to do.
The Islanders crumbled when it mattered most, losing the next four games. A 4-1 loss in Tampa Bay brought the series to New York tied up, where the Islanders blew consecutive third period leads and lost both games in overtime. The Islanders hardly showed up in Game 5, being ousted from the playoffs by a score of 4-0.
The postseason served as a microcosm of Jack Capuano’s tenure with the Islanders. There were some positive developments, including the first round series win, but as a whole the postseason left most with the feeling that the Islanders could have done more. With Capuano at the helm, the feeling has consistently been that the Islanders haven’t lived up to their potential.
Capuano started as Head Coach in 2011, taking over as the interim for the fired Scott Gordon. He stayed on full-time, bringing the Islanders back to the postseason in 2013. Following that postseason appearance, the expectations were higher than ever. New York had brought back the majority of the team that brought them to the playoffs, and a few minor improvements were made.
Rather than progressing, though, the Islanders took a step back. After a horrible start, Garth Snow made a knee-jerk transaction and dealt Matt Moulson and draft picks for Thomas Vanek. Vanek thrived in his time in New York, but the Islanders continued to crumble. When Tavares went down with an injury in the Olympics, the season was officially lost. Capuano had failed to make any gains, but he kept his job.
New York returned to the postseason the following year, having brought in two first-pair defensemen in October, a rarity in today’s NHL. Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy helped lead the way for an improved team, albeit one that struggled down the stretch and lost the last regular season game at Nassau Coliseum, losing the team home-ice advantage in their first round matchup with the Washington Capitals.
The loss to the bottom-feeder Blue Jackets shot the Islanders in the foot, as New York had to head to Washington for Game 7 in the first round. With New York needing a victory to meet the rival Rangers in the second round, the stage was set for the Islanders biggest victory in two decades.
Instead, the Islanders managed 11 shots.
Eleven shots in a game. Eleven shots in a postseason game. Eleven shots in a postseason Game 7.
The team came out flat and never recovered, with Jaroslav Halak serving as the only barrier between being blown out and staying in the game. New York was eliminated in a brutal fashion, but again, Capuano was kept aboard.
Now, following the loss to the Tampa Bay Lighting last postseason, the Islanders are bringing back memories of the 2014 team that missed the playoffs. Capuano is making all of the wrong moves, and the Islanders are 3-5.
Capuano spent the preseason playing P.A. Parenteau on the first line with John Tavares and Andrew Ladd, only to work with Garth Snow to place him on waivers before the season started. To replace Parenteau, Capuano tabbed the 37-year-old Jason Chimera.
So far Capuano has already benched Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, and Ryan Pulock, already eschewing the one attribute that appeals most to his supporters, his ability to develop young talent. Anders Lee is a man lost, playing 12-13 minutes a night. J.F. Berube is toiling away as the third-string netminder, with none of the three goalies on the roster being allowed to grow comfortable in a defined role.
Perhaps Jack Capuano’s struggles can be summed up in one game from this season rather than the series against the Lightning.
In a 4-2 loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Josh Bailey played over 22 minutes, Anthony Beauvillier played fewer than 11 minutes, and Andrew Ladd somehow played over 23 minutes, yet found himself on the fourth line in the same game.
It appears Capauno has grown stale as Head Coach of the Islanders, and it is time for the Islanders to make a move. There is plenty of coaching talent out there, and the Islanders have a complete enough roster to make a run despite a slow start. Getting a new voice in the locker room and on the bench should be the first step.