Hockey at the NHL level is a 55/45 game: Much is invested to carve out little gains within this middle 10 percent between the best teams and the worst teams. General managers put the rosters together and take stabs at nominal upgrades, all subject to injury swings. The coaches must deploy those rosters, subject to the injuries and the tools their GMs give them.
So NHL coaches are like characters in Greek tragedies. Sure, they can do things to influence their team, manage its day-to-day mentality and approach, alter their "system" (though most systems are very similar, with minor differences).
But ultimately they are who they are, probably have an outsized belief in their ability to influence things, all while dependent more on their players' abilities as well as hockey's whims both generous and cruel.
Coaches don't pull off many mid-tenure changes -- Mike Yeo in Minnesota this year may be an exception -- and their records will swing with forces largely beyond their control. Jack Capuano hasn't really changed much; if anything he may be better at getting his players to "play the way we need to play" in the last year than he was early in his tenure, as the Isles deliver mostly consistent efforts and mostly close games.
But in hockey theological terms, the hockey gods are having their way with him. Whatever you think of him as a coach or of his moves, he is the same Jack Capuano he has always been. The hockey gods who enabled Capuano to return the Islanders to the playoffs last year and have Capuano reach second place in franchise history for wins and games, those are the same hockey gods who have a theoretically better team spiraling into the division cellar seven months later.
So it's with morbid curiosity we watch how Capuano handles his fate, a fate which seems not completely in his hands. Because whether you're Ken Hitchcock or Rick Bowness, fate is never fully in your control. Capuano's Islanders are heading on the kind of road trip that can end a man's coaching tenure, if the results follow the odds (though in hockey, game-to-game odds are never stark enough to believe in. Closer than 55/45, really.).
Here was Capuano after last night's overtime loss, their second in a row at home and seventh consecutive game without a win:
We've played them now I don't know how many times, but there's been a lot of one-goal games. I'm not a stat guy, but we're 0-for when we just score two goals in a game. We needed to get that third one, but we hit a post, and he made a good save on the penalty shot.
On trying to stop Crosby and Malkin:
We talk about that, with elite players. You're not gonna stop 'em, but you gotta contain 'em. I thought we did a really good job of eliminating some of his chances, but he still came up big for them.
On Crosby's winner:
I haven't really looked at it, but from the bench it looked like we broke the puck out, got stripped, Crosby made a good play on the takeaway there, and he's good on his flats. Once the turnover happened, the D has a tough enough job as it is, but they gap up and have Crosby coming at them with speed.
Surprised by Vanek's late and nearly costly penalty?
No it didn't surprise me. He had quite a battle in front of their net, he took one or two really good shots behind the legs there. Emotions run high sometimes, I'm not really going to fault him for that.
On Anders Nilsson:
Again, I haven't looked (at tape) but he played good. I haven't looked at the second goal there, but he made some big saves, timely saves. For only his second start, I thought he played well.
When you got a guy that size, less is more. He's structured, he stays square to the puck. He's confident right now. Again, it's only two starts, but he works hard. Both of our goalies work hard. It's good to see him go in there and play well for us.
On worrying about morale dropping:
No, these guys work. To me, people can say what they want to say. At the end of the day, you try to get the most out of your players and you want them to work. And they work. [Penguins power play hurt us last year and this year too. "That can't happen."]
On Calvin De Haan, who played 18:12:
Cal played well. Couple goals [against] there, [but] got some pucks to the net. We matched a lot tonight, so some guys didn't get the minutes they want, but I thought everybody contributed.
Frustration among coaches?
My frustration is what the players are feeling like. Because we've been there as coaches. That's the tough thing: They're giving it to you off the ice, strength and conditioning. They give it to you in the meetings, attention to detail, they work in practice. And again tonight their work ethic [was good].
But it came down to special teams -- we had opportunities on the power play too but didn't get it done. I've said this, the only way to get out of this is to continue to work. Stay focused, keep working hard.
Stan Fischler Asks John Tavares about the Awful Officiating
The Penguins received five power plays in this game. The Islanders received two power plays plus a penalty shot. You could say the officiating was, ah, inconsistent. So Stan Fischler probed the topic with John Tavares (video embedded above, or viewable at this IslesTV link).
Some excerpts follow:
On the game:
We lost another game. There's not much feeling good about it. We can talk about some good things, but we just didn't get the job done at the end of the day.
On the overtime winner:
I don't know, it happened fast. Obviously Crosby made a good play. You gotta pay a price to get to the middle of the ice, and we made it too easy for him.
On Anders Nilsson as a bright spot:
Anders played well again. Our goalies have played well all year.
(That's captain's diplomacy for you right there.)
On his conversation with the refs going into overtime:
"I just wanted to understand why certain things were getting called and why certain things weren't. Try to get a better understanding. …
[Fischler asks about the glaring contrast in Vanek calls/non-calls] That's what I was trying to find out.
"I've always said the refs have the toughest job, not an easy game for them. I don't think we want to be known as a team that complains, we want to earn our respect out there. But there are times when in front of the net we're battling, and it feels like they can get away with a lot. … We're battling, trying to earn two points just as much as they are. Just trying to find that consistency in what's being called and what's not being called."
Oh, you mean like the Tavares crosschecking penalty in front of the net was legit but soft, while Vanek was the victim of much worse with the game on the line? Yeah, I noticed that too.
That's the NHL for you: The more significant the play, the more likely the refs are to go into "let them play mode," while they'll tally up their penalty call quota in spots where nothing's on the line.
But as Tavares -- as guilty as any others on this night -- said: At the end of the day, they didn't get the job done.