Casey Stengel is widely credited with asking, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”during the New York Mets’ inglorious, inaugural 1962 season.
Forgive Jack Capuano if he looks at the 2015-16 New York Islanders team and wonders to himself “Can’t anybody here play?”
For the second time in as many years, and the third time in four seasons, the New York Islanders have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But as his team readies for a first round series against the Atlantic Division champion Florida Panthers, Capuano’s Islanders are a collection of the walking wounded.
“We have some bumps and bruises,” Capuano said after the Islanders’ 4-3 overtime loss to Buffalo at Barclays Center Saturday night. The Islanders ended the regular season with a 5-2 loss to the Flyers Sunday night to culminate a campaign in which they earned 100 points with a 45-27-10 record.
That is the positive.
The negative is that the Islanders iced a lineup against the Sabres that lacked Jaroslav Halak, Travis Hamonic, Mikhail Grabovski, Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin among regulars. Clutterbuck and Martin did play in the regular season finale and should dress for Game 1 Thursday (8 p.m., CNBC)at the BB&T Center.
Halak won’t play in the series, as he recuperates from a lower body injury that’s suspected to be a torn groin sustained in a 2-1 win over the Penguins on Mar. 8 at CONSOL Energy Center. It is believed the earliest Halak could return would be the second round.
Without their No. 1 goaltender, the Islanders have had to make due with backup Thomas Greiss, and prospects JF Berube and Christopher Gibson. It is likely that Greiss will be the playoff starter and Gibson will be the backup, as Berube is dealing with an injury of his own.
“I think guys have worked hard. I’ve said that,” Capuano said. “We have three guys.
“For me I just think the guys work hard, they focus, and those guys you give an opportunity to. They’re going to take advantage of that. And I know they’re excited about it, all three guys.”
Undoubtedly, the loss of Halak is significant. So, too, is that of Hamonic.
The Islanders lost Hamonic in the first period of their 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Mar. 31 at Barclays Center following a collision with Scott Hartnell. The team has not disclosed the severity of the injury other than Capuano having told reporters “it’s not good.” However, Hamonic skated at the Islanders’ training facility in Syosset Saturday morning, but Capuano was unsure if the defenseman could play against the Panthers.
“I don’t know. It’s a matter of how he feels and what the doctors say,” Capuano said. “We still have some time before…whenever the playoffs open up. I’m hopeful there’s a chance he can play.”
Following the game Sunday, Capuano reiterated his position.
“We’ll see how he skates,” Capuano said. “He has skated the past couple days. Again, we want to make sure he is 100 percent and that he is ready to go before we make that decision.”
The one area in which the coach was adamant was that he and his team were not attempting to pick their playoff opponent. By virtue of the 5-2 loss to Philadelphia on the season’s last day, the Islanders solidified a first round series against the Panthers. Had the Islanders defeated the Flyers, they would have met Pittsburgh in the first round.
So he dismissed the notion that he—and the organization—were attempting to pick their playoff dance partner.
“You can’t do that. We haven’t had success against Pittsburgh, and probably should have been 0 and 3 against the Panthers,” Capuano said. “To me, you have to play top teams. I just want to make sure for me and this organization, we do the right thing so whoever we play next week that the guys are healthy going into the playoffs and we give them the best chance. That’s all we can do.”
Still,the Islanders are a confident group.
“We’ve been playing well in these last couple weeks,” Cal Clutterbuck said after Sunday’s season finale. “We had to win some big games coming down the stretch and we did that. I think we’re (heading) in the right direction (and I’m) always confident in our group.”
The Islanders did not practice Monday, but the team announced defenseman Scott Mayfield was returned to AHL Bridgeport. The league announced John Tavares was named the First Star of the Week following after recording four goals and five assists for nine points in four games.
You can follow NHL writer Denis P. Gorman on Twitter at @DenisGorman