NEW YORK, N.Y. – The odds were against Scott Gordon all along.
Once the New York Islanders dropped 10 games in a row in the final year of his contract, it was hardly a surprise that he was fired Monday in his third year as coach.
A three-game sweep on a California trip left the team on an 0-9-1 skid, sealing his fate. Gordon was replaced by Jack Capuano, the coach of the Islanders’ AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Capuano will make his NHL coaching debut Wednesday at home against Tampa Bay.
“It’s not the ideal situation,” Capuano said after running practice Monday. “I have great respect for Scott. We’ve been friends for a long time and I’ve learned a great deal for him. But there was a change, and I’ll make the best of my opportunity.”
The Islanders were already operating with a roster that lacked superior talent and depth when key forward Kyle Okposo and top defenceman Mark Streit were injured during the pre-season and lost for months.
After a 4-2-1 start, the Islanders plummeted to the bottom of the NHL standings. New York (4-10-3) is tied with Edmonton for the fewest points (11).
“When we’re in a situation we’re in right now—we’ve lost 10 games in a row—sometimes you have to go with your gut and make decisions that are tough,” Islanders general manager Garth Snow said during a conference call.
Gordon was a relative unknown from the AHL when hired by the Islanders in 2008. In two-plus seasons with New York, Gordon went 64-94-23—the lowest points percentage in the NHL. He will remain with the organization as an adviser to Snow.
Snow wouldn’t say how long Capuano would remain coach, not even committing to keeping him for the rest of the season. There were no other changes made to the coaching staff.
“We’re just concerned about Wednesday,” Snow said. “He’s the coach of this team as we speak right now. He’s excited about the opportunity and looking forward to getting this team turned around.”
New York will play 11 of its next 16 games at home after starting the season with 12 of the first 17 on the road. The Islanders are 2-8-2 away from Nassau Coliseum.
“We’ve still got a lot of the season left,” goalie Rick DiPietro said. “As bad as it’s been, and as crazy as it sounds, if we could’ve picked a time to lose 10 straight, we picked a good time to do it. There’s tons of time left and our hole, by no means, is insurmountable.
“You make a move like that, it’s a bold move. It’s on us now to do it. It’s our responsibility to make amends for what’s happened.”
The Islanders have been ahead in a game only once during the 10-game skid, a 1-0 lead at San Jose on Thursday that ended as a 2-1 loss in a shootout. New York started quickly this season and created optimism when they briefly rose to the top of the Eastern Conference. Things quickly deteriorated.
“We believe we need a change in direction and, with the majority of the regular season still ahead of us, our goal remains to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Snow said.
The Islanders have only 37 goals in 17 games for an average of 2.17. Only New Jersey and Florida have scored fewer.
Gordon’s final game was a 5-1 loss at Los Angeles on Saturday night.
“It’s never a good day, and I think what disappoints, too, is that we’re a team that’s losing and that’s underachieving,” captain Doug Weight said. “Make no bones about it, no one in that room thinks it’s all Gordo’s fault.
“We had to look at ourselves in the mirror and realize we are a big piece of this. Our attitude, our play, how we come to the rink, affects a lot of people.”
Capuano was 133-100-8-14 with Bridgeport. He joined the Islanders as an assistant coach for the 2005-06 season after working as general manager of the ECHL’s Pee Dee Pride from 1997-05.
He wasn’t immediately concerned aboutthe interim tag.
“We haven’t even discussed that,” Capuano said. “I got a call from Garth to come up this morning, and he explained the situation. We haven’t really talked about much further. The expectation as an organization is to win games at this level.
“It’s a situation where we have to win hockey games and get back into the playoff race.”
Capuano is familiar with many of the Islanders’ young players who were with Bridgeport before reaching the NHL and from his work with the team during training camp.
“There is a comfort knowing there doesn’t have to be a feeling-out process with our players,” Snow said.
Gordon replaced Ted Nolan as coach after the Islanders failed to make the playoffs in 2008 following a one-year appearance. They didn’t qualify in either of Gordon’s two seasons behind the bench, with the Islanders last in the Atlantic Division both times. They had the NHL’s worst record in 2008-09, enabling them to draft John Tavares with the No. 1 overall pick in 2009.
Capuano doesn’t intend to change Gordon’s system a lot, at least not right away.
“I don’t know if you need to shake it up too much,” he said. “Scott brought a lot of structure a couple of years ago, but there are some things we’ll tweak a little.”
Gordon was the first coaching hire for Snow, who became the general manager the same day he retired from the Islanders as the backup goalie.
Gordon had been the coach at AHL Providence for six seasons before joining the Islanders, winning league coach of the year honours in his final season with the Boston Bruins’ affiliate.
He also was an assistant coach on the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team that won a silver medal this year at the Vancouver Games.
The Islanders have been rebuilding since Gordon was hired. Along with veterans such as Weight and 41-year-old goalie Dwayne Roloson, New York has tried to create an identity with Tavares, Okposo and fellow first-round pick Josh Bailey.
“Hopefully, we can get some new energy, some new ideas, a different style of play,” Tavares said. “Scott tried a lot of different things, and we played better than other teams some nights. We didn’t get a lot of breaks. Things didn’t go our way, and Garth felt it was the right time to bring in some new ideas.”
While there is still hope the youngsters will develop into top players, time ran out on Gordon.
“He has a knack for getting the best out of (the young players), not only Tavares and Bailey, but our veterans,” Snow said. “He’s done an excellent job, unfortunately he’s in a situation where we have 10 losses in a row and needed to make a change.”