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Inside the NHL

With recent NHL firings, it's the goaltenders you can blame the most

Yes, there are outliers like Bill Peters in Calgary and Jim Montgomery in Dallas who were dropped for their much-publicized, off-ice issues. But what the rash of firings of NHL coaches (and the sacking of New Jersey General Manager Ray Shero) is again showing us is that you can quickly become a bad coach or GM if you have subpar goaltending.

If Peter DeBoer suddenly hits blackjack in Vegas and becomes a turnaround master like he was in New Jersey and San Jose, it will in part be because Marc-Andre Fleury found the game he had during the Golden Knights' magical 2017-18 run to the Stanley Cup final.

Until stopping 33 of 35 shots in DeBoer's debut Thursday in Ottawa, Fleury had not put together a save percentage higher than .895 in any of his previous five games under the deposed Gerard Gallant. For the season, Fleury entered the weekend at .906 with a 2.85 goals-against average. Two years ago, he was at .927 and 2.24.

And let's not forget that DeBoer suddenly couldn't get enough out of his San Jose team that went to the Western Conference final last year after beating Vegas in the first round and GM Doug Wilson let him go last month. Of course, it was Wilson who left DeBoer with Martin Jones (.891/3.22) and Aaron Dell (.909/2.84) in the net.

Colin Miller stunned as Vegas fires coach Gerard Gallant, hires Peter DeBoer after loss in Buffalo

In Nashville, David Poile watched his team crumble in too many games – including the Winter Classic in Dallas – and ignored his previous pronouncements to the contrary when he decided a coaching change was what he needed. Poile jettisoned Peter Laviolette, foolishly in this view, and now it's John Hynes' problem to figure out whether Pekka Rinne (.896/3.02) or Juuse Saros (.895/3.13) can get the job done in goal.

Of course, Hynes came from New Jersey, which gave up 14 goals in two games against the Sabres in KeyBank Center and sent Cory Schneider to Binghamton of the AHL at .859/4.42. Devils starter MacKenzie Blackwood is at .905/2.97 and Louis Domingue .883/3.66. That's almost always the GM's fault, not the coach, and Shero paid the price on Sunday.

An aside here: Not many teams are going to fire the GM between wins on a weekend back-to-back over Washington and Tampa Bay, but Devils ownership clinched the Weird Optics of the Season move with that decision. Shero hasn't gotten many results, even with two No. 1 overall picks and summer acquisitions like P.K. Subban and Wayne Simmonds, but there was still little inkling his job was in jeopardy.

After all, why would ownership allow Shero to fire Hynes and work the Taylor Hall deal if they were just going to turn around a month later and run out the GM?

In Toronto, where players had long tired of Mike Babcock before Sheldon Keefe was brought in on Nov. 20, goaltending also was a key issue. Frederick Andersen was doing most of the work and backup Michael Hutchinson didn't win a game under Babcock.

Even now, Hutchinson's numbers are brutal on a good team (3-7-1, .885/3.83) and Andersen is again overworked (38 games, 22-8-6, .912/2.80) with serious questions whether he and his team can hold up in the playoffs. That's assuming they make the playoffs, suddenly no sure thing in the wake of injuries on defense to Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly.

So what's going on here? For one thing, it's pretty clear there aren't 31 No. 1 goaltenders in the NHL these days. But this is mostly a case of teams trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Certainly last year's St. Louis situation, where Mike Yeo was fired in November and Craig Berube took the Blues from last in the league in January to the Cup by June, is fresh in everyone's mind.

But Berube continued a trend of retreads to win the Cup. The last six coaches to win it have all been on at least their second job, a list that includes Berube, Barry Trotz, Claude Julien, three-time winner Joel Quenneville and two-time winners Darryl Sutter and Mike Sullivan.

No first-time coaches won a Cup during the entire decade of the 2010s. The last first-timer to do it? Former Sabres boss and current Detroit assistant Dan Bylsma with Pittsburgh in 2009. And Bylsma, remember, was a midseason hire as well, taking over for Michel Therien.

So what happened in Vegas?

The Golden Knights got too much too soon and now they're spoiled. Owner Bill Foley, team president George McPhee, GM Kelly McCrimmon, the fan base. All of them. That trip to the '18 Cup final was historic and will always be a talking point in the NHL, but it set unreasonable expectations. Weird things can happen in the postseason, as the Golden Knights found out in Game 7 of the first round last year against San Jose.

Gallant's team was first in the Pacific on Jan. 3. Tuesday's loss to the Sabres was their fourth straight, something that never happened in the regular season during the expansion season. When the Knights got to Ottawa, McCrimmon talked about how the move was a matter of "feel." McCrimmon coached 13 years of junior for Brandon in the Western League and clearly had some ideas that Gallant didn't share on how to run the club.

The Gallant firing had to send shockwaves through the coaching fraternity. Talk about looking for a quick fix.

"It's unprecedented, right? You just don't know what the deal is," Arizona coach Rick Tocchet told Phoenix reporters. "Speaking personally for me, I think he's an excellent coach. He's been a great friend to me and it's a mentor type of thing. He's a guy to bounce ideas off in the past. I like what he's done in Vegas. I was shocked like everybody."

Tocchet said the concern is that the results are too consuming to ownership and GMs and there's not enough commitment to a process of building a team.

"Sometimes you don't like it because sometimes it's not the coach's fault," Tocchet said. "It's hard for me to speak because I've been there before (getting fired by Tampa Bay in 2010). You just move on. Do your best, and move on."

Sabres coach Ralph Krueger certainly knows about bizarre firings after his via-Skype sacking from Edmonton in 2013. Krueger was staying focused on his own team when asked about Gallant the day after the Vegas coach's final game, but said he didn't necessarily think it was a spur-of-the-moment move either.

"It's part of our business. You never know all the facts that lead to those decisions," Krueger said. "You look at it and you move on with your job. ... Usually those kind of decisions are made ahead of time and they've been evolving for whatever reason."

Who might be next?

There's often talk about Paul Maurice in Winnipeg and you would imagine Claude Julien is on a very hot seat in Montreal, but the back-and-forth season in Minnesota again makes you wonder about Bruce Boudreau, especially in the wake of his embarrassing faux pas Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

A 7-3 loss was bad enough but the fact that it came with the Wild forced to play with only five defensemen because of a lineup card snafu was worse. Boudreau incorrectly listed Greg Pateryn as a scratch on the lineup sheet he turned in before the game and had forward Ryan Donato, who was supposed to be a healthy scratch, in the game.

When the mistake was noticed, Pateryn was sent to the dressing room and Donato had to hurriedly go down to the room, get his equipment on and join his teammates on the bench.

"It’s all my fault," said Boudreau, who told reporters he apologized to his team during the first intermission. "I do the lineups first thing in the morning and the first thing that goes down is the lowest number and I put Donato on and forgot Pateryn. And when I looked and the thing was full, I figured I did it right. It’s a dumb mistake. Never done that before. To start the game with five 'D,' I take full blame for that.”

They said it

• DeBoer on his first meeting with Vegas players that were his archrivals in the playoffs and April and through four meetings this season: "It was a little shocking. But a good shock. We’ll get through it. It’ll be a little awkward – like meeting an ex-girlfriend when it didn’t end well.”

• Vegas tough guy Ryan Reaves on putting past unpleasantries with DeBoer aside: "I wouldn’t say I have the best track record with him. I’m going to have to have a smile when I introduce myself for sure, maybe a hug."

• Hynes on taking over in Nashville: "I'm from Rhode Island. I'm a huge Patriots fan. But as of last Sunday ... go Titans."

• Winnipeg's Mathieu Perreault, after Vancouver's Jake Virtanen did not receive a suspension for a hit to Perreault's head: "Player safety, my (butt). This is literally an elbow to the face to a guy that didn't have the puck. ... I'm the smallest guy on the ice so I can't really fight anybody. The only thing I can do to defend myself is use my stick. So the next guy that does that to me is going to get my (expletive) stick and I better not get suspended for it."

Sabre points

• Nine out of the first 10 games after the All-Star break are at home for the Sabres. The opponents are Ottawa, Montreal, Columbus (2), Colorado, Detroit (2), Anaheim and Toronto. There's a lot of winnable games in there, a key reason you can't sleep on them in the playoff race.

• A nifty Twitter nugget from @SabresStats on Twitter: Thursday's win in Dallas was just the second game this season Jack Eichel didn't have a shot on goal. The other? The 4-0 win over the Stars Oct. 14 in KeyBank Center. That's eight goals for the team in two games and none from Eichel. But the captain hardly had a subpar game Thursday, collecting an assist, a plus-2 rating and a 13-11 mark on faceoffs.

• Hard to figure how Curtis Lazar didn't make this team out of training camp. He deserved to, but the Sabres clearly weren't going to start Casey Mittelstadt in Rochester, even if that's where he belonged based on his play in the exhibition schedule.

Sabres' Curtis Lazar proving 'haters' wrong in bid for full-time NHL role

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