The time for niceties is over.
Jack Capuano made that perfectly clear hours before the Islanders took on the Lightning Monday night, when the coach called out specific players for lack of effort, something that he’s avoided doing all season. But even though the Islanders responded resoundingly in a 5-2 win at the Barclays Center, this time effort did little to compensate for a game full of big scares and big injuries.
Calvin de Haan left in the second period and did not return after taking a puck to his right knee. Cal Clutterbuck took a stick to the face in a frightening second-period collision that left him incapable of leaving the ice on his own strength. He returned in the third period. Capuano said he doesn’t know if de Haan will make the trip to Washington for Tuesday night’s game.
The injuries — the latest in a growing list that includes Travis Hamonic and Jaroslav Halak — tempered a pumped-up showing by the Islanders, who were subjected to their coach’s ire during morning skate.
“We need [Ryan] Strome to be better, we need Brock [Nelson] to be better, we need [Josh] Bailey to be better,” Capuano told reporters. “We’ve struggled with a few guys for sure about their compete level and their work ethic and it has to be better . . . You’re only letting your team down if you’re not going to compete at a high level and the guys I mentioned earlier need to pick this [expletive] up and start playing.”
On Monday night, young blood was part of the answer.
Starting for Brian Strait (rest), Ryan Pulock ignited the offense early, scoring the second goal of his career at 13:18 of the first period when Kyle Okposo’s shot deflected off his leg and tipped by Ben Bishop. The 21-year-old rookie further endeared himself to the fanbase with 3:17 left in the first period, when he went toe-to-toe with Cedric Paquette after Paquette’s hit on Thomas Hickey.
But every positive seemed to beget yet another injury.
Okposo went down hard while grappling and left the ice. Though he returned about a minute later, the relief was short lived for the Islanders. Midway through the first period, de Haan took a hard shot off the knee from Nikita Kucherov. De Haan tried to get up under his own power and faltered, and though he eventually returned with about 4:20 left, he left immediately after trying to skate on it.
De Haan returned to start the second period, but went back to the locker room a few minutes in, shortly after getting beaten by Nikita Kucherov at center ice. Kucherov fed it to Alex Killorn, who waited for Thomas Greiss to commit before backhanding a goal to tie it up, 2:08 into the second period. The Lightning was dealing with its own injury woes as it played without star Steven Stamkos, who underwent surgery for a blood clot Monday.
The Islanders scored the next three goals — by Matt Martin, Nelson and John Tavares — but not before another player fell.
With the Isles leading 3-1 at 15:53 of the second, J.T. Brown high sticked Clutterbuck, who crumpled against the boards and had to be escorted off the ice by Martin and Casey Cizikas. Clutterbuck, his head hung, didn’t move his legs as his teammates skated him off. Tavares’ tally, his 30th of the year, came about 30 seconds later. Victor Hedmen scored on a screened Greiss with five seconds left to draw the Lightning to 4-2 going into the third period.
Tavares added two assists, his last coming on Johnny Boychuck’s wrister at 4:28 of the third.
After the win, Nelson didn’t say much about Capuano’s comments.
“I don’t think you can ever be too complacent,” he said. “It is what it is. You go out and play.”
Capuano said part of the decision to call out the players came as a result of his veterans, who are running out of chances to win a Stanley Cup. “The only reason I singled them out is because I care about them,” he said. “I care about them as people and I care about them as hockey players . . . It’s not that I’m calling them out and trying to embarrass them in front of anybody. We need those guys to play better.”