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Outside View: Reporter Watches Game, Finds New York Islanders to be Good

This post is 100% guaranteed to receive "FIYRE CRAPUANO" comments somewhere.

This goal was down to structure. Or battle level. Or maybe nothing to do with coaching at all.
This goal was down to structure. Or battle level. Or maybe nothing to do with coaching at all.
Shawn Coates-USA TODAY Sports

Only had seen the Isles on TV this season before tonight. Gave a real appreciation for the structure they have worked into their game.

- Patrick Williams, correspondent

One thing I've learned about sports and social media is that no matter what happens, no matter what a team's record, there will be a segment of the fanbase that demands a coach's firing after each loss.

It's not a matter of if, or how, or why, or when. It's just a thing. While there are great, insightful, interesting thinkers out there, the most vocal among the masses generally go like: 1. "I am upset my team lost!" 2. "Fire someone!" 3. "Preferably that guy, he's in charge of all of this after all and Harry Truman once said..."

As the manager of a site that at least tries to encourage in-depth thought, critical analysis, debate and reason-based discussion of all the nuances and turns of our favorite team in our my favorite sport, I sure don't discourage the idea of considering who would be the optimal coach for the New York Islanders. I just kind of expect the "FIRE!" advocates to come up with the why, as well as the ideal alternative.

Show your work, as it were.

Alas, mostly what we hear on this topic is random "fire him!" comments that deal with very vague generalities like "he's supposed to motivate them!" after losses and "where's the accountability?" after individual player mistakes which -- SHOCK! -- happen on every team. In every sport. No matter the coach. Sometimes people get more specific with player deployment (a great and more testable topic), special teams (a sore topic this year that could have a few culprits) and blown leads (not as telling, since it happens to all kinds of teams).

Which isn't to say I'd ever turn my back on an upgrade. As someone who came to Islanders fandom via the great, irreplaceable, unclone-able (sadly) Al Arbour -- whose head some fans were calling for as late as 1979 -- I am always up for this discussion. I'd venture that in a league with several top-tier teams, every fraction of advantage could be the difference.

But the burden is on the critics. Since the games and post-game scrums themselves offer very limited windows into the actuality of coaching beyond lines and deployment (and those often carry conditions we don't see), critics seldom bring much verifiable evidence. They just bring conviction.

Yet with multiple coaches, a GM, two (or more) goalies, and a roster of 23 plus callups, the coach isn't always the key factor. He's just the most visible and talkative one.

So what to make of the Islanders this year, and Capuano in particular? The general manager improved the roster. The team plays in a way that both entertains -- it's "up tempo" -- and generally demands the respect of opponents, reminiscent of Capuano's other high point, the surge to the 2013 playoffs. Right now they are 25-11-1 and have more points on New Year's than any Islanders team has had in a generation.

That doesn't mean the previous four seasons under Capuano are irrelevant, but...well this season has to be good for something.

And that's not to say they couldn't be even better -- every coach, and every fan, will always want to be better. (In Montreal many fans distrust Michel Therrien despite their excellent record, and there are some statistical and deployment reasons to consider the argument.)

But the Islanders' record and sterling underlying stats do make it difficult to pin exactly what has been done wrong that a real-life alternative coach would correct while -- and this is important -- while also not giving up what the Isles already do right.

An Outsider's View

Anyway, this wasn't supposed to turn into a coaching post. Rather, given this topic, it's just interesting to see what outsiders have to say upon seeing the Islanders -- particularly when a Capuano buzzword like "structure" appears in a Western Conference reporter's first impression.

Not that another writer is the ultimate authority on this, but these topics were on my mind the other night during the Islanders' win over the Jets, when local Winnipeg correspondent Patrick Williams shared several impressions of the team. Namely:

For the twitter-handicapped, that was: "Only had seen the Isles on TV this season before tonight. Gave a real appreciation for the structure they have worked into their game."


The bottom-six quality is more on the GM's additions over the offseason, but some credit is probably due to how they are deployed, too.

Again, for the twitter-deprived, that's: "The Isles look like "the Bruins" more than the Bruins look like the Bruins now."

I'm not totally sure I agree, but that amounts to the Islanders overall toughness factor while being a good team, something that fans occasionally call into question.

And on the future:

That's: "Skill, toughness, anyone meeting the Isles will be in for a rough playoff series."

This is actually the most frightening point, because:

  • In contrast to the 82-game regular season, playoff series are more prone to "luck" things like injuries, officiating turns, special teams droughts. Better teams tend to win the Stanley Cup after four series of separating wheat from chaff, but really good teams fall in the first round each season because hockey happens.
  • A one-on-one playoff series is where the coaching adjustments from game to game that you can't get during the regular season (because the opponents are constantly changing) become more significant.
  • So much depends on matchup, which could easily mislead us into thinking a) Capuano is the perfect coach for this team when he's not, or b) Capuano is the wrong coach for this team when he actually is.
  • The Isles are...gonna make...the playoffs. That's a thing that is likely to happen now.(!) For the second time under Capuano.

It's going to be interesting to see any other impressions we hear from outsiders as the Islanders visit other Western stops on this road trip -- including Vancouver, home of the "who is this Matt Coulson?"

It may tell us nothing; it may add a couple of more arrows for our quiver. It's all part of the honest fan's on-going assessment of his/her team.