Thursday, March 31, 2011

I'll Bet This Pair of Jacks

Yes folks, it was a good night in Islanderland.

With the rival New York Rangers fighting for their playoff lives fresh off a 1-0 loss at the hands of Buffalo, you would think the Islanders would have faced a desperate team flying out of the gate. Instead, the visiting Rangers received a thorough dismantling by the hometown Islanders on Thursday (3/31) night, who sent them back to Manhattan with their tails between their legs.

6-2 was the final score in a fight and penalty filled affair. Of note, Michael Grabner was out of the lineup awaiting the birth of his son. Frans Neilsen was injured by Marian Gaborik toward the end of the first period. League pest Sean Avery had his eye bloodied by Islander Michael Haley. Most importantly, the Rangers' most vital player, Henrik Lundqvist, was beaten for four second period goals and pulled to start the third. The visiting Rangers fans sat quietly on their hands as the Islanders racked up goals and most were on the highway with ten minutes remaining in the game.

Was it any wonder why Rangers coach John Tortorella wasn't in a chatty mood after the game?

But, let's remember, this was just one game. The Islanders aren't a playoff team in 2010-2011. But there are two men who might ensure they are in 2011-2012: Jack Capuano and Jack Hillen.

Much has already been said about Capuano elsewhere. The players have responded to his coaching style and subtle changes in system and attitude after the dismissal of Scott Gordon. And this is not a knock against Gordon. But the proof lies in Capuano's 26-26-9 record since he assumed the top role. Keep in mind many of those games have been played with a depleted lineup, much like this latest one.

However, Jack brings a laissez-faire approach to his coaching; it's apparent in his postgame debriefs, win or lose. He usually has a smile on his face and doesn't get overly technical in his explanations, unlike his predecessor. The players seem looser when I interact with them. Some of that is natural growth as players and as a team.

But others have said it and I'll go ahead and write it: the Islanders would be crazy to move forward with anyone other than Capuano next season.

He might fail, but he has earned a fair chance to guide this team under a new contract.

One other person I briefly want to mention worthy of a shot is Jack Hillen. I know he's not considered a top candidate for what should be an improved defense next year, but I think if the team is in need of a final defenseman on the roster it should be Jack. I'd certainly prefer him to Bruno Gervais if it comes down to a numbers game. To be clear, I have nothing against Bruno; he is a funny and polite young guy. In fact, he was one of my first interviews four seasons ago. I like Bruno very much.

I'm not sure there will be roster room for both men next year. I just happen to think Hillen is more capable in the defensive end.

Getting back to the here and now, Capuano praised Hillen's work after the 6-2 victory.

The coach simply stated, "He's skating." He continued, "We wanted our net front [defense] to activate. He was a big part of our breakout tonight and I can't say enough about the way Jack is playing right now."

I think going into next year, if I'm really seeing what I think I'm seeing as this season winds down, I'll be happy to bet on both Jacks.

News and notes:

- The aforementioned Hillen played 22:13, made four hits, and was a +2.

- Kyle Okposo had several good chances and went hard to the net more than once, but was again blanked on the scoring sheet. He's stuck at 5 goals and 13 assists.

- Six different Islanders scored and Isles goalie Al Montoya made 25 saves for the win.

- Statistical wizard Eric Hornick reports that this was the Islanders' largest margin of victory over the Rangers since February 20th, 1992.

- The Rangers were 0-for-8 on power play chances.

1 comment:

OkposoNose said...

Hillen has been such a pleasant surprise for the Isles. Since making his 2 game debut back at the end of 07-08 he has come along so nicely taking on more responsibility and growing as a player. With back-to-back 20+ point seasons they have to pull the trigger and keep him. Gervais is good but he's never had that kind of production before.