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Applying the system

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
A team never likes to give too much away when talking about their systems. In fact, teams like to start the season off right by creating the illusion that they have some new systems that will take every team by surprise. That’s why Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano, as well as the players, tend to be tight lipped when talking about the team’s game plan.

“We have a couple things that we do, depending on who we play and what other teams do,” Capuano said after Islanders Training Camp on Tuesday. “We just want to make sure we can implement things so that we are prepared and the guys know exactly how we want to execute.”

Defenseman Mark Eaton said Capuano’s system, a fast-paced game that tries to force opposing teams to the outside, is perfect for the Islanders.

During a drill at Islanders Training Camp, David Ullstrom and Justin DiBenedetto crash the net where Anders Nilsson defends.
“It’s up-tempo, aggressive,” Eaton said. “We’re a good-skating team and our systems take advantage of our speed. We’re an aggressive team, a team that wants to spend a majority of the game playing in the offensive zone, so our pressure and systems are geared towards that.”

Eaton, an 11-year NHL veteran, played four seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins before signing with the Islanders as a free agent last July. Even though he missed a majority of last season due to injury, he’s no stranger to Capuano’s system.

Capuano and Dan Bylsma, head coach of the Penguins, both got their feet wet in the NHL coaching scene when they served together during the 2005-06 season as assistant coaches for the Islanders.

“Jack’s systems are fairly familiar,” Eaton said. “He does a lot of what we did in Pittsburgh. A lot of the systems are geared the same, being up-tempo and having an edge in the offensive zone.”

Capuano has said that he liked the way his team executed the system he implemented in the second half of last season and doesn’t plan to make that many changes, but on the second day of systems work, the players are already starting to learn new techniques.

Jack (Capuano) watches a ton of video, all the coaches do. So he’s always tweaking things and seeing how we can improve in certain areas. That’s what makes a good coach and creates a good team. I think he’s done a great job so far. - Matt Moulson
“Jack (Capuano) watches a ton of video, all the coaches do,” Islanders forward Matt Moulson said. “So he’s always tweaking things and seeing how we can improve in certain areas. That’s what makes a good coach and creates a good team. I think he’s done a great job so far.”

Islanders center Frans Nielsen added, “The basics are still the same. It’s just small tweaks. These are changes you don’t really have to think about and you’re not afraid of doing wrong or forgetting something out there. It’s pretty simple and these are things that everybody has tried before, so Jack has made small changes but nothing complicated.”

As for implementing those tweaks, Capuano said his job is much easier this year than when he arrived on the Island midway through last season.

“We have a lot of the same guys back who understood what we wanted to do in the second half,” Capuano said. “There are a lot of smart hockey players. They are skilled, but they have tremendous hockey sense and they think the game really well… It’s fairly easy for guys to pick up.”

That’s good for the Islanders, who began to buy in to Capuano’s system from the start of his tenure (Nov. 15) and flourished, completing the second half of last season with a much better outlook on the team’s future.

John Tavares and Nino Niederreiter put pressure on Anders Nilsson during Islanders training Camp at Nassau Coliseum.
“He made it easy for us out on the ice and made a lot of guys use their talent, like Johnny (Tavares) and those guys,” Nielsen said. “He let them play and use their talents. So I think that’s one of the reasons (everyone bought in to his system).”

Getting used to the system isn’t as easy for every player. Brian Rolston, a 16-year NHL veteran, was acquired by the Islanders in a trade with the New Jersey Devils in July. The Devils play a game that relies heavily on the trapping system and Capuano’s game plan is a lot different.

“It’s going to be a work in progress, that’s for sure,” Rolston said. “We went over some things yesterday that aren’t real different. I’ve been around the game a long time. I should be able to integrate pretty easy.”

Becoming used to the different positioning on the ice will be the biggest change.

“We do different things in the neutral zone,” Rolston said. “My whole career, I’ve been pretty much accustomed to a trapping system and now we’re playing a 1-1-3. Those kinds of things and reads that you have to make are something that I’m going to have to get used to, but it’s something I’ll catch on to fast.”

Seeing his new teammates practice over the last few days has Rolston even more eager for the season to start than when he initially waived his no-trade clause to join the Islanders.

“I am excited,” Rolston said. “If you look at our lines and the guys we have here at camp, we have a tremendous team. We really do. We have a lot of talent. It’s just a matter of making it happen.”
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