Ralph Krueger's impact thus far in Buffalo has been plainly obvious: A strong use of positive reinforcement, a simple system that relies on instinct, a full attack on the puck and a defensive structure that keeps the field of view clear for the goaltenders. As a result, Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark are making plenty of saves.
But in the first two weeks of the season, Krueger hasn't been alone in providing instant impact behind the bench. A new coach isn't automatically a panacea for a struggling team but it was certainly noted around the league what happened last year in St. Louis when Craig Berube took over for Mike Yeo.
Here's an early-season look at how the league's new head coaches are faring outside of Buffalo:
Dave Tippett, Edmonton: There were plenty of rumors in the spring the Sabres had him on their radar but that they weren't on his. Tippett, who had decent success in Arizona, left the front office in Seattle to get back into coaching and might have finally figured things out in Oil Land. Having Connor McDavid should make anyone look smart but that had not been the case with Todd McLellan. Tippett has the Oilers thinking plenty of defense and the goaltending tandem of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith has been excellent. Of course, so have McDavid (17 points) and Leon Draisaitl (16).
Dallas Eakins, Anaheim: Supposedly a bottom barrel team in the West, the Ducks punished the Sabres and Carolina in consecutive games during the week to get to 6-2. The defense is big and mobile while the forward lines have lots of balance and the goaltending between John Gibson and old friend Ryan Miller has been superb (14 goals in eight games). Eakins said he learned from his first NHL stint in Edmonton that he had to become a better listener. Over the summer, he traveled the globe to meet his new players in person to hear their stories and meet their families. The buy-in has been universal.
Alain Vigneault, Philadelphia and Joel Quenneville, Florida: Two veteran coaches leading teams with lots of established veterans and having middling results. Through Friday, they had combined for a 4-4-4 record and were waiting for their key players to start having bigger impacts.
D.J. Smith (Ottawa) and Todd McLellan (Los Angeles): Special teams are killing both. The Sens entered Saturday as the only NHL team without a power-play goal (0 for 21) while the Kings were just 2 for 24 while also ranking 30th on the penalty kill. McLellan shook up his power-play units against the Sabres, dropping the ineffective Ilya Kovalchuk and Jeff Carter off the first power play grouping, but got no results. The Kings are generating a lot of scoring chances but, as they showed against the Sabres, they need to start finishing them.
“My concern is our approach to the game early tonight. The same line two shifts in a row made the same mistake. Eventually the guys are going to have to get it or we’ll be chasing games forever”
— FOX Sports West (@FoxSportsWest) October 18, 2019
So who's in trouble?
Let's start in Minnesota, where the Wild are a disaster at 1-6 entering the weekend with a minus-15 goal differential. They've already yielded three four-goal periods and had a players-only meeting after Thursday's 4-0 loss in Montreal. Afterward, forward Jason Zucker didn't exclude coach Bruce Boudreau from the blame game when asked what impact the meeting could have.
"I think more than that’s going to have to jump-start us, to be honest with you," Zucker told long-time beat writer Michael Russo of the Athletic Minnesota. "It’s going to be each individual guy … from Bruce on down. Bruce has got to be better. We’ve got to be better. Everybody’s got to be better. That’s it.”
Boudreau is in the last year of his contract and Bill Guerin was just hired as GM. Owner Craig Leipold was in Toronto and Montreal for losses but has been in Boudreau's corner. And there's a school of thought the Wild have simply gotten old fast and need to bottom out to get a top pick in the draft, something they haven't done since the early years of their franchise. The Wild has also played only one home game but Boudreau's status is going be a daily discussion point until things turn around.
The heat is also on in New Jersey, where the Devils' high expectations crashed in an 0-4-2 start that had coach John Hynes in the fans' crosshairs. The Devils got their first win Thursday over the Rangers -- but it came with assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald on the bench in a new role as an assistant coach. Hmmmm.
GM Ray Shero insisted the addition of Fitzgerald, the father of Sabres prospect and Rochester defenseman Casey Fitzgerald, was Hynes' idea and he liked it. But Shero wouldn't give his coach a vote of confidence.
“I really want the team to give me a vote of confidence that I picked the right (expletive) team," Shero said bluntly. "So that’s what I want to see, and I know they’re capable of it. That is about a team, that’s not just about the players or a coach or I’m responsible for the players, but it’s collectively really being honest with each other and I know we’re better than this."
In Dallas, it seems unlikely the Stars would turf Jim Montgomery just five months after they were in double overtime of Game 7 of the second round in St. Louis. But the club entered the weekend in a 1-7-1 abyss through nine games, tied for the worst start in franchise history, and had only scored 17 goals. The power play was just 1 for 24. The Stars were terrible here Monday when they were shut out by the Sabres and have lost twice more since.
"This is something we’ve got to work out internally," GM Jim Nill told the Dallas Morning News. "We’ve been talking with the players, they know they’ve got to get better. I’ve been talking with the coaching staff, they’re pushing every button they can, and we’ve got to get through this."
* The Sabres 50th anniversary game-opening video is simply spectacular. The memories just flow from all directions. Pat LaFontaine makes multiple appearances, ending any narrative fans might have had that the team would ignore its deposed president.
One big quibble: The Sabres have drafted three Hockey Hall of Famers and only one (Gilbert Perreault) got any love in the video. No mention of Dave Andreychuk (368 goals, 804 points in Buffalo) and no mention of Phil Housley, the franchise's runaway scoring leader on defense, and thus no "Woweee Housley" calls from Rick Jeanneret.
Sure, Housley got fired as coach in April. But these are either bad oversights or the team being petty with a former employee. Now, it doesn't diminish the quality of the work in the video. It's just disappointing.
* Here's something mentioned on a recent telecast by rinkside analyst Rob Ray that a few of you inquired about: It really is true that the NHL has developed pucks this year that change color when they're no longer frozen and thus get taken out of play.
PPG, the Pittsburgh-based paints supplier that holds the naming rights for the Penguins' arena, worked with the league on technology that provides coatings on the pucks. Ink applied turns purple when the pucks are properly frozen and slide on the ice as designed. When the puck picks up heat from use and goes over 30 degrees, the ink turns white. That's the officials' signal to swap it out of play.
* The team's game presentation staff has apparently gone back to "Sabre Dance" for the players' entrance music this season and it's just wonderful. No more bad rock tunes or cliche stadium/arena anthems. Just a return to a tradition that dates to the early days of the Aud that should never have been touched. Bravo.
Around the boards
* With a crowd of 14,764 for Tuesday's loss to Arizona, Winnipeg failed to sell out a game for the first time since the franchise returned to town from Atlanta in 2011. The Jets had sold out the previous 332 games at Bell MTS Place, including playoffs. Then Edmonton's shutout streak ended Wednesday at 550 games during a win over Philadelphia.
Veteran writer Ken Campbell of the Hockey News pointed out that Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver all played to non-sellout crowds Tuesday. The Sabres are certainly feeling the pinch as well. Early-season games are a tough sell if your season-ticket bases drop. High prices at the box office, and even in the secondary market in Canada, are keeping fans away and the price-point ceiling might just about be at hand in some of these cities.
* The Washington Nationals' trip to the World Series leaves the Seattle Mariners as the only MLB team left never to play in the Fall Classic. As for the NHL, we're down to four teams that have never played in a Stanley Cup final -- Arizona, Minnesota, Winnipeg and Columbus. The first three have all made the Western Conference final once while Columbus only won the first playoff series in its 19-year history with last season's first-round sweep of Tampa Bay.
It should be noted fans in Minnesota did see two Cup finals when the North Stars played the New York Islanders (1981) and Pittsburgh (1991). The North Stars moved to Dallas in 1993 and the Wild then came to town in 2000 but have yet to advance that far.
* Dave Bolland skated in his "One More Shift" pregame alumni tribute with the Blackhawks Friday in United Center and the gritty forward who scored Chicago's Stanley Cup-winning goal in 2013 said he had plenty of flashbacks when he was in the stands in Boston's TD Garden for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in June.
One of Bolland's friends looked to the ice and noticed how close they were to the spot where Bolland scored his goal, completing a burst of two goals in 17 seconds against Tuukka Rask that turned a 2-1 loss into a 3-2 victory in Game 6 in 2013. Unlike Sabres center Jack Eichel, who also attended, Bolland was not recognized by Bruins fans at Game 7.
"Our tickets were literally five rows up from where I scored," Bolland told the Chicago Tribune "It's pretty funny when you're reliving those moments."
* The Kings celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first event in Staples Center Thursday against the Sabres and had the Guinness Book of World Records on hand to certify they put on the largest laser show in an arena. The team said it used 642 lasers to set the record during its first intermission show. And it didn't even require D.J. Milk to scream through it to get that done. Imagine that.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) October 18, 2019