"The guys who stop the puck are the guys who are gonna play."
I haven't seen this segment come up much, and I'm not sure how many of you access the NHL's "Home Ice" channel on satellite radio. But last week's season preview on Home Ice is worth a listen as it touches on several topics with Jack Capuano that Islanders fans have been discussing all summer. [You can find access to season previews of other teams via XM Home Ice Facebook page.]
Paramount among these issues is the crowd in the goal crease, where once-incumbent starter Rick DiPietro has been through 3.5 seasons of injury hell, and the most successful (Al Montoya) of six goalies used last season was acquired for a song in a moment of desperation Feb. 9.
When asked about the many goalies in camp, Capuano joked, "I'm trying to look into that crystal ball right now." Reading between the lines, he knows there are a lot of options with a lot of different contexts (presumably: Evgeni Nabokov's rust, DiPietro's injury recovery, Montoya's short and unexpected bloom, plus the unproven prospects).
Here's the full context of the quote at the top of this post:
Obviously Rick has had a good summer, he's recovered from some injuries ... He's ready to go, I've talked to him, he's excited. But at the same time, competition is good. We've got training camp and preseason games, so the guys who stop the puck are the guys who are gonna play.
Other topics included:
- Doug Weight running the powerplay
- Brian Rolston's addition, respect for him, mention of his point shot on the powerplay (a Rolston interview airs later in the segment)
- Alexei Yashin: Capuano leaves that to Snow but recalls how Yashin was a producer when Capuano was an Isles assistant coach.
- The development of Michael Grabner: Working with him last season to keep doing the things that bring him success. (The hosts asked Capuano about preparing him for tighter checking; Capuano said even last season he reminded him not to get away from what works.)
- Nino Niederreiter's prospect of making the team:
"Nino's got a great chance, but again, it's gonna be up to Nino. He's going to do some training here on Long Island in August, and I expect him to be ready for camp. I know about his contract, but it's kind of old-school: If you want the job, you gotta fight shift for shift."
The whole 30-minute-plus segment is worth a listen, as the hosts also trade opinions on the Islanders' progress.
Now maybe Capuano is just speaking well-trained coach-speak, but from this interview and other moments with him over the past season, I get the impression he does subscribe to an "old school" approach in this, his first and best chance at keeping an NHL head coaching job: There won't be favorites, there won't be external considerations. If you perform, you'll play.
There's been a lot of speculation, or fear, that the 15-year contract with DiPietro's name on it will keep him getting starts no matter what. After he played in 26 games last season and put up .886 save pct. and 3.44 GAA, that's a non-starter (no pun intended).
But it should be a clean slate for everyone in the crease -- and this no doubt applies to Montoya as well. Montoya earned the bulk of starts down the stretch with his play last season, but you have to imagine that in order to keep them he has to play like Al Montoya, Islander, and not Al Montoya, San Antonio Rampage.
I don't envy Capuano having to sort things out in camp -- particularly if Nabokov is there as he pledges -- but one thing I am betting on is Capuano going with the players who give him the best chance to make the playoffs, contracts, experience and seniority be damned.