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Post-Game Video: Capuano says Islanders approach with lead is not to 'protect'

Chicken or egg? Coaches or players? Jack Capuano insists his staff wants his players to stay assertive when holding a lead.

Jack Capuano's post-game with the media covered the gamut of topics after the New York Islanders' 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night, but one in particular has to do with the nature of how the Islanders try to play with a lead -- something that might come as a surprise to frustrated fans who dread the times when leads aren't held.

Fans of just about every hockey team tend to dread "the shell" -- that often slow and almost instinctive shift into a conservative, prevent mode with the lead where they let the foot off the throttle and inevitably invite more opposition attacks. It can be a safe strategy at times, but it can be dangerous and it can bring out the worst in human nature: The tendency to play it safe amplifies to the point that the team overcompensates.

What the Isles coaching staff has long insisted is that this shell is not something they advocate. Implicitly, they're saying it's the players who end up easing up on the gas. (Note: This isn't unique to the Islanders. It only feels that way when it's your team.)

So on the topic of protecting the lead well in Thursday's third period -- the Isles controlled play and got the period's first 10 shots on goal -- Capuano said:

"Yeah, it was good. But I don't use the word 'protect.' We don't, we aren't trying to protect, the way we want to play. Our system is to play on our toes. We want to continue to play on our toes. If [the opponents] get a goal off the face-off like happened in Buffalo [i.e. not a result of "protecting"], so be it. To me we played just as good in the third against Buffalo as we played tonight, but tonight we won the game."

If Capuano's comparison to the Buffalo game (a shootout loss) is counter-intuitive, it's because it addresses one of the hardest hockey realities to wrap one's head around: Sometimes you play well and lose; sometimes you play poorly but win. Luck is a part. Hot goalies, poor calls, and the hockey gods

To that end, Capuano agreed with the assertion (one I share) that this was their best effort of the season, even though this season includes a 6-1 thumping of the Phoenix Coyotes: "The Phoenix game we got some bounces. We all know the score didn't [reflect that game] and Nabby made some big saves."

Other topics from the presser (video of which is embedded above and available at IslesTV here):

  • The common Capuano refrain: "There's a certain way we have to play to win." They say that, a lot. But it's true.
  • Made a small adjustment for the second power play, where Okposo scored.
  • On the lines: After the first period the first line hadn't done much and they thought about breaking them up. Talked to them at intermission and decided against it.
  • On "activating" the D and countering the Oilers attack: "It's the way a lot of teams play. Maybe we try to exploit it more, but that opens up the ice more for your D or your high forward." [...] "We try to play fast. We don't want to play east-west in the neutral zone, we want to play north-south as much as possible."
  • Capuano praised Casey Cizikas' work and face-offs. "He plays hard. He knows exactly who he is. He doesn't change who he is. He gives you exactly what he's got. Whether offense or defense, he takes a lot of pride in his face-offs."
  • On the PK: Evgeni Nabokov was big. "Your goalie has to be your best player on the PK, and he was. They seamed us quite a few times and he made the saves."
  • After a couple of healthy scratches, Capuano said he liked Matt Donovan's play tonight: Head up, got pucks to the net on the power play, escaped well on the breakout, showed confidence, chose the right times to engage.

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