Almost two months into this NHL season and so far, the Buffalo Sabres are in a playoff spot and one of the greatest coaches of all time is out of a job. It certainly has been a wild ride up to this point and hopefully for the entertainment factor this unpredictable sequence just keeps on keepin’ on. Let’s take a look at some of the most unforeseen and unpredictable things that have happened through this still young 2019 season.
Vegas may be a little hungover
Reaching the Stanley Cup Final in their very first year of existence just last season, the Vegas Golden Knights were poised to enter their sophomore year just as talented as they did in their inaugural season. Starting off at a slow pace, the Vegas faithful weren’t deterred and to be quite honest, nor should they have been. Any team that goes to the Stanley Cup Final in their first season should have fans that are more than comfortable with what most would consider a slower than normal start.
Inside the club, there seems to be no signs of panicking anywhere which I like. As soon as a team is underperforming, the blame game begins and I think this can be toxic to the team as a whole which only makes the situation worse. It can be difficult to focus on winning when there are constant talks and rumors about players getting traded and people getting fired. Not to mention constant questioning from the press and complaints from the fans. It would be like trying to take the SATs with someone screaming in your ear the whole time.
As of Nov. 20, the Golden Knights are 9-12-1 and sit 7th in the Pacific Division. Starting their first 10 games 4-6-0 with a three-game losing streak baked in there wasn’t necessarily the fiery start that people expected. Averaging just over two goals per game in their first 10 games wasn’t ideal but actually kind of made sense considering they lost key forwards like James Neal and David Perron.
Not all of the blame is on the offense and honestly, I don’t think there is much blame to go around in the first place. Not every problem can be solved immediately with one big shake up. I would say the remedy for Vegas’ poor start is just patience and playing the game you know led you to success in the season prior.
Some predicted that the Golden Knights were a one hit wonder but most played it safe and figured although a second straight Final appearance probably isn’t in the stars, this team will still be a solid one that can win on any given night. The Golden Knights have gotten off to a slow start and haven’t completely gotten back up to speed however, I still don’t think this is going to be a trend for the remainder of the season.
The Sabres are actually holding onto a playoff spot
As of Nov. 20, the Sabres have won six in a row and are showing no signs of slowing down. After years of suffering it finally looks like this team is beginning to turn things around. One would certainly ask how they are doing this considering the name “Sabres” and the statement “are in last place” have kind of been synonymous with each other the last handful of years.
Buffalo has been winning but not everything has been perfect. The big question for this team is whether or not this success can last. At 13-6-2, their goal differential is only plus five which means that they are getting wins but just barely. If this is a Sabres team that is maxing out right now, this early success won’t last until the All-Star break. On the other hand, if this Sabres team can find another level of play in them, they could possibly make the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Although this team is winning games and getting the points, they might want to consider winning by more of a margin than they currently are. The Sabres have won their past six games but all of those victories have come by one goal. Nine out of their 13 wins in total have come by just one goal which means it’s safe to say that a good number of those games could have gone the other way.
Regardless of how they are winning, the Sabres just keep on getting the two points and moving on. There doesn’t seem to be any one thing or person leading the Sabres to these wins but maybe that is the biggest positive of all. There isn’t just one player leading the charge. This has been a team effort in which everyone on the roster is contributing to get victories. Teams who are lucky enough to get this kind of production are usually difficult to stop because they have so many weapons. Perhaps Buffalo has finally assembled the right pieces after going through that Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane phase.
California dreaming or California screaming?
This was supposed to be the year that all three California teams would again return to the playoffs but this time the twist was that all three of them would have a chance at doing some damage. As opposed to the season prior where the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings went 0-8 in the first round collectively with the Sharks handing out a sweep to the Ducks but then receiving their own reality check one round later.
In the offseason, the Sharks made what was probably the second biggest splash of the summer. Right behind John Tavares going back home to Toronto, Erik Karlsson finally got the trade out of Ottawa that he had been looking for and was now a San Jose Shark. Excited to get started in NorCal, the rest of the league let out a big, stressful sigh.
Down south, the Kings had signed long-time NHLer and KHL All-Star Ilya Kovalchuk who was considered to be one of the more valuable free agents at the time. Coming back to the NHL from Russia, many thought Kovalchuk would immediately return to being the scoring wizard that he was when he left the NHL after the 2012 season.
Even further south, the Ducks, who didn’t pick up anyone of importance over the summer, already had a talented roster. The veterans in Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler were supposed to be back and healthy. Rookies like Isac Lundestrom, Kiefer Sherwood, Sam Steel, Jacob Larsson, Maxime Comtois, etc. were all ready to go out there and show everyone the future of the Ducks. The team was healthy and ready to reclaim the Pacific Division.
The season is still young but none of these teams have met any of the standards that were set out for them prior to the season starting. Erik Karlsson in his 21st game for the Sharks finally scored his first goal. As a team, the Sharks sit tied for first in the Pacific Division but are only one game above .500. (Tells you how the Pacific Division is doing)
The Kings are dead last in the NHL with a record of 7-12-1 and are a full two points behind the next team up. In addition to that, Kovalchuk has 14 points in 20 games played with five goals and is a -10. That isn’t abysmal but the Kings worked really hard to get him and he hasn’t necessarily been a game changer.
The Ducks have fallen back into the injury trench and show no signs of ever escaping. At this point, I’m not even sure bubble wrap would be able to keep this team protected. Beyond the injuries, the biggest problem is head coach Randy Carlyle. At this point people just need to call it what it is with him. His style is outdated, doesn’t fit with a fast-paced style of hockey, and Carlyle is dragging the Ducks down with him.
Coach Q’ is through
One of the greatest coaches in NHL history and the second winningest coach of all time with 884 dubs, it came as quite a shock when the Chicago Blackhawks announced on Nov. 6 that Coach Quenneville would be relieved of his duties. Thanked for his time in Chicago and of course the three Stanley Cup Championships he helped win, Quenneville made it clear that although his time in with the Blackhawks is over, this is not the end of his coaching career.
The head coach of the Blackhawks for nearly 11 years, Joel Quenneville took franchise players in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and coached them into Stanley Cup Champions. A lock for the Hall of Fame, it seemed as if no matter how bad a team is doing no one in their right mind would ever let go of a head coach like Joel Quenneville. Yet, that is exactly what the Blackhawks did. More specifically, that is exactly what Stan Bowman did and most weren’t too happy with him after this controversial move.
After winning the Cup in 2010, 2013, and 2015, the Blackhawks failed to win a playoff series as they lost to the St. Louis Blues in 2016 and were swept by the Nashville Predators in 2017. Failing to make the playoffs in 2018 for the first time since 2008, this slow start to the 2019 season was the nail in the coffin.
Many teams around the NHL are certainly licking their chops considering they have an opportunity to hire a coach that brought a terrible team out of the shadows and coached them to, I’m sorry but I have to say it, three Cups in six years.