Jack Capuano chose hIs words carefully, to protect the guilty.
It was a few minutes after the Islanders had been thoroughly embarrassed 5-0 by the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd at Barclays Center, and Capuano was asked to assess the state of his team.
“I think certain guys feel other guys need to pick it up. I don’t think our secondary guys are doing anything to help us win, and I think the older, veteran guys feel that in a way,” Capuano said. “Your secondary guys have to be a factor.
“Our guys have to be better. …They have to pick it up.”
These are the words of a coach whose team just completed its 77th game of the regular season, and finds itself holding onto the first Eastern Conference Wild Card berth.
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And they are apt.
Against the Penguins, in what was their most important game of the season, the Islanders were essentially non-competitive after the opening 20 minutes. Pittsburgh, who clinched a playoff berth with the win, scored four times in the final two periods. The Islanders surrendered two even strength goals, two power play goals and a shorthanded goal.
Five Islanders finished with a minus-two rating. Another five were minus-one.
“It's just disappointing the way we played today,” John Tavares said. “Considering where everything stands right now, that kind of effort is unacceptable. It’s extremely disappointing.”
The loss snapped the Islanders’ three game winning streak. With five games remaining, they have not clinched a playoff berth. Four of those games will take place this week, as they host Tampa Bay and Buffalo, and travel to the Capitals and Rangers for Metropolitan Division showdowns.
“We (have) to be better next game. It can’t happen again,” Frans Nielsen said. “It’s frustrating. It should not happen.”
Three of the Islanders’ four opponents this week could rightly be described as conference heavyweights. And the Islanders will enter those season defining games without top defenseman Travis Hamonic, who is expected to miss the rest of the regular season with a lower body injury suffered in Thursday night’s 4-3 win over Columbus.
Before the game, Capuano said the injury is “not good. I know he’s going to be out for the rest of the regular season.”
“I just feel bad for the guys,” Capuano said. “Sometimes timing is everything in life. I’ve always said it. You’ve heard me talk about goaltending, luck, health and special teams as far as playoff teams go, and we haven’t had the luck or the health of this hockey club. Last year Travis got hurt, arguably our best defenseman, shutdown defenseman that we have; tough to play against. Other guys are going to have to step up and give us some minutes. You can’t control in life what you can’t control. So you have to…move forward.”
He was emphatic, though, that the Islanders were not dwelling on negatives.
“As far as the move to Barclays, as far as the different structure in Barclays, as far as the ice conditions, (the last season at) Nassau Coliseum, it hasn’t (affected our) singular focus one bit,” Capuano said. ‘Focus on the task at hand. We talk about our team and what we do. We believe in one another. With 40 plus wins and the adversity that we’ve faced, we just want to keep going.”
You can follow NHL writer Denis P. Gorman on Twitter at @DenisGorman.