If a change is as good as a rest, a lot of NHL teams should be fueled up for this new season of hockey.
Thirteen squads — basically 40 percent of the league — began this campaign with a different person behind the bench than it had for the NHL’s opening weekend 12 months ago.
Coaching changes are made for more reasons than ever today and the expectations placed upon the new guy can vary greatly from place to place.
Bruce Cassidy had a .672 points percentage in 399 games as the Bruins coach, but still didn’t make it to Game 400. Now he’s batting 1.000 in three games with the Vegas Golden Knights after the Knights downed the Seattle Kraken 5-2 at Climate Pledge Arena on Saturday. Cassidy’s replacement in Boston, Jim Montgomery, is also sitting pretty early on as the Bruins blasted the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Saturday to run their record to 2-0-0.
Cassidy and Montgomery are certainly on the list of coaches who are expected to win right out of the gate in their new spots. To different degrees, that’s also the case for Paul Maurice in Florida, Pete Deboer in Dallas, Lane Lambert on Long Island and — when he gets out of COVID protocol, that is — Rick Bowness in Winnipeg.
The good news for that group is everyone already has a win under their belt, with Florida and Dallas also off to nice 2-0-0 starts. (Technically it was interim coach Scott Arniel who got the Jets’ ‘W’ on Friday.)
This is the first full year for Jay Woodcroft in Edmonton and Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, and you can forgive both those men if they’re already a little grumpy. Woodcroft watched his guys fall behind the Calgary Flames 4-1 in the opening stanza on Saturday before eventually losing 4-3 in the first installment of the Battle of Alberta. That marked the second straight game the Oilers dug themselves a first-period hole, having done the same in a game they eventually came back and won against Boudreau’s Canucks. That’s the perfect segue to Vancouver blowing a second consecutive 2-0 first-period lead on Saturday, this time gagging it up to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Early holes and blown leads? That’ll make a coach lose his “It’s early” perspective in about the time it takes to announce there will be no pucks at the next practice.
Speaking of those Flyers, is anybody shocked to see John Tortorella have them out to a 2-0-0 start? To the outside world, Philly is a mess; to Tortorella, it’s nothing a little working-harder-than-you-ever-have-in-your-sorry-stickin’-life-before can’t fix.
Derek Lalonde’s Red Wings would also still seem to have a long ways to go before being playoff contenders, but the Motor City’s new guy guided the Wings to a pair of weekend wins. Detroit went on the road and tuned up the Devils 5-2 on Saturday 24 hours after a home-opener win versus the Canadiens.
Montreal’s Martin St. Louis certainly knew this season was going to require some patience, as did former Habs assistant Luke Richardson in Chicago and David Quinn in San Jose. The Habs lost two road games this weekend, while Chicago managed to get its first ‘W’ of the campaign in San Jose, leaving poor Quinn and the Sharks 0-4-0 out of the games.
Let’s just say there have been lots of “teachable moments” for those squads so far — with many more to come in the next six months.
• Nothing can make a coach look good faster than stellar goaltending. With that in mind, DeBoer must be happy to look down and see Jake Oettinger standing in goal for the Stars. No. 29 made that same number of saves in Dallas’ win over Nashville on Saturday, making it back-to-back wins over the Preds and giving him a save percentage of .968 on the infant season.
• In terms of testing opponents’ stoppers, no team is putting more rubber on goal right now than the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens put 44 shots on Tampa’s Brian Elliott during their 6-2 drubbing of the Bolts on Saturday, one game after firing 53 shots against the Arizona Coyotes in their opener. Captain Sidney Crosby is off to a fantastic start, notching his second straight three-point contest versus Tampa. One of those points was this beauty goal that got Pittsburgh off and rolling.
Has ‘The Kid’ got something special in store for us in Season 18?
• Look, it’s too early to even be using the “it’s early” caveat, but I do wonder how tense things will get in New Jersey — a team expected to rise up the Metro standings — if win No. 1 doesn’t come soon. Miles Wood was already calling the Devils’ home-opener against Detroit on Saturday a “must win” and, instead, Jersey gave up four second-period goals to a Wings team playing the second half of back-to-backs.
Yes, the Devils outshot Detroit 39-22, but we’re at a point where only the result matters for this club. The angry mob was already gathering on Saturday: “Fire Lindy” chants could be heard in the Prudential Center as coach Lindy Ruff and the club now sit 0-2-0 on the season. This is suddenly a big week for the Devils.
His team may be off to an uneven 1-2-0 start, but Steven Stamkos — with four goals on the year — is rolling so far. ‘Stammer’ had a pair on Friday night in Tampa’s win over Columbus, then offered this vintage one-timer to open the scoring on Saturday in Pittsburgh.
Red and White Power Rankings
1. Calgary Flames (2-0-0) So Michael Stone signs his fourth consecutive one-year deal with Calgary for the league minimum just before seasons starts, then goes out and has a hand in all three first-period goals Calgary used to storm out to its lead over Edmonton on Saturday. Not a bad week.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs (2-1-0) That sound you hear is fantasy team owners sprinting to their laptops to see if there’s any chance Ilya Samsonov is still on the waiver wire in their league.
3. Edmonton Oilers (1-1-0) The Oilers definitely need to tighten up in front Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner; the goalies have seen 78 shots in six periods of hockey so far.
4. Winnipeg Jets (1-0-0) Mark Scheifele had a pair and Connor Hellebuyck made 40 saves in the Jets’ 4-1 win over the Rangers on Friday. If those two guys have vintage years, the mood around this team could brighten in a hurry.
5. Vancouver Canucks (0-2-0) So the Canucks have the first period down, having outscored opponents 4-0 in that frame so far. Now, about those final 40 minutes…
6. Ottawa Senators (0-2-0) After two L’s on the road to start the year, Ottawa can try to get right with a five-game home stand that begins against Boston on Tuesday.
7. Montreal Canadiens (1-2-0) Four of Montreal’s top-six defencemen are rookies after the news off-season acquisition Mike Matheson will be out two months. Better build in extra rest days for Jake Allen and Sam Montembeault.
The Week Ahead
• The red-hot Crosby faces off against his boyhood team in Montreal on Monday. If Crosby can tally another three points, he’ll equal the record (nine) for points by a player aged 35 or older in his first three games of a season. Not surprisingly, the record holder is Crosby’s old landlord, Mario Lemieux.
• Here’s hoping Bowness can return from COVID protocol as planned and coach his first game for the Jets in Colorado on Wednesday. Unfortunately, he’s going to have to miss facing his old team in Dallas on Monday.
• We may get the second installment of the “Battle of the Robertsons” on Thursday night, as Jason and the Stars visit the Leafs, who called Nick Robertson up from the AHL on Sunday. Neither Robertson scored last time they met seven months ago.