You could put me in the group of people confused/upset over the firing of Scott Gordon earlier this season. The injuries on the team before the season, the injuries on the team during the season, the lack of a veteran right winger for John Tavares, seemed to conspire against Gordon more then anything he did. As David mentioned at the time, there didn't seem to be any spectacular replacements for Gordon. The promotion of Jack Capuano, although somewhat natural, came off as a poor move. He wasn't lighting the world on fire in the AHL and the Isles proceeded to drop all but one game between his hiring on Nov 15 and the now infamous Dec 16th win against Anaheim.
That December 16th win against Anaheim Ducks is now a talking point as the Isles have put up the most points in the East since then. Truth be told I thought we would have a ten point lead in the race for the #1 overall pick, not be ten points out of the playoffs by now. While the return from injury of Kyle Okposo has definitely helped, that is more then outweighed in the other struggles of the club. The trading of James Wisniewski and Dwayne Roloson in late December was a sign that this season was being given up on. Instead the team has fought on, winning despite the mess in the crease and a top defensive pairing of second year man Andrew MacDonald and 20 year old rookie Travis Hamonic.
If the Islanders had simply improved because they had gotten healthy, it would be easy to dismiss the success that Jack Capuano has had. But as the team has continued to have a revolving door at the blue line and in the crease, he seems to have them believing in themselves. Mikko Kosikinen having a bit of an off night? The team will just have to put up 7 goals. They are making nearly every game competitive. It seems to be a completely different team then the one that had 1 win during the month of November. Everything points to this being the work of Cappy, who deserves to be rewarded with at least one more full season to see what he can do.
While the Islanders shorthanded unit have been making headlines, especially as Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen work their magic, the power play unit hasn't been invisible. For the first time since Scott Gordon took over the Isles PP is in the upper half of the league. How many times in the last 2 years did we see the team get stopped in the neutral zone during the PP? Or the team spend a minute of PP time just trying to get into the offensive zone? Most notable is that at one point the PP had gone on a 0-39 run which nearly topped the team record set in the expansion season of most games with a PP goal.
Speaking of the Penalty Kill, last season they finished next to last in the league. Only Toronto was worse with a man down. Right now they are tied for 15th in the league and lead the league in Shorthanded goals. Around here we've taken to joking that a penalty on the Islanders is really just a Grabner Play. Before the season started I discussed many of the troubles the Islanders had last year and specifically pointed out that the special teams had to improve for the team to make a run at the playoffs. Call me Captain Obvious, but the improvement in both the PP and PK under Capuano shows how good this team could have been.
Sometimes when your a coach you have to make due with what you have, instead of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Scott Gordon, for whatever reason, seemed unable to make the changes to match the team on the ice. Some nights the Islanders lost in the third period because they looked like they were skating in cement. Other times the Islanders would come flying out of the gate, only for the other team to make adjustments and slowly take the game back. Gordon might be better off as an assistant coach in the NHL as he obviously has the smarts, but a problem of thinking/changing on the fly.
In the end though, this is about Jack Capuano. Unless you somehow thought he might take the team to the playoffs, there's not much more you could have asked for from him. The youngsters used on major roles with the team have continued to improve, while those called up from BP have not looked out of place. With so many of the players having played under Cappy while in BP, it's obvious they hold him in high regard. Watching what he's done with this team since he's taken over it's easy to see why they held him in such regard. There is no reason to not remove the interim tag before the season is over. There's not a single coach out there short of Al Arbour who could have worked this much of a miracle. If the Islanders for whatever reason didn't bring back Cappy, he's not going back to the SoundTigers. I can't see a team not taking a chance on him after this.
Garth Snow is making a career of turning other people's trash into his treasure. This is a case where he might have stumbled onto a gem without knowing it. If the team is to be competitive in the immediate future, the man for the job is Capuano. It looks likely that he'll finish the season with a record above .500, the first coach to do so since Ted Nolan's first year on the job in 06-07. The Isles might also finish the season at or above .500 for the first time since then. This was a team that on December 15th was 5-18-5. If your not in favor of Capuano getting at least another year, I'm not sure how much more he would have had to do to impress you.