It doesn’t get any easier: Sabres kick off three-game California trip in San Jose

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As if life needed to get any harder for the NHL’s worst team, the Buffalo Sabres kick off a three-game road trip tonight in San Jose, after which they’ll make stops in Los Angeles Thursday and Anaheim Friday.

Combined, those three California teams are 15-3-1 at home. In contrast, the Sabres go West dragging a 2-11-2 overall record with them.

If there’s a bright side, it’s that the Sabres’ only two wins came on the road. But let’s be real, there’s no bright side to what’s happened in Buffalo this season. By almost every measure, it’s been a disaster. There’s the minus-23 goal differential. The league-worst 24.8 shots per game. Really, about the only thing that’s been decent is the goaltending. And thank goodness for that, because the Sabres are allowing 35.5 shots per game, the third most in the NHL.

Buffalo’s latest loss, 6-3 to Anaheim on Saturday, was the Sabres’ fifth by three goals. The loss also dropped their record at the First Niagara Center to 0-8-1.

At least one Sabre is hoping some time away from the hometown booing (not to mention the chanting directed at management) will help.

“Sometimes trips like these can change a season and really mold a team,” said Matt Moulson, per the Buffalo News. “Hopefully that’s the case on this trip and we come away with some W’s and come back home. I know the fans definitely want some wins here.”

Ken Hitchcock returns to coaching, replaces McLellan in Edmonton

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Ken Hitchcock’s retirement lasted a whole 221 days.

On Tuesday morning, the Edmonton Oilers announced what we’d all been waiting for: that head coach Todd McLellan had been fired. What we didn’t expect to hear was the 66-year-old Edmonton native getting back behind the bench to replace him.

McLellan’s days were numbered in Edmonton. After making the playoffs in 2017, we all expected that that was the beginning of the Oilers taking steps to being a respectable team again. Well, last season they crashed back back down and returned to having an early offseason.

In parts of four seasons in Edmonton, McLellan led the team to a 123-119-24 record. There was only so much Connor McDavid could do.

Saddled with some bad contracts (Milan Lucic, Kris Russell) and a few bad trades later (Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle), general manager Peter Chiarelli was unable to build a support system around McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. It’s resulted in a 9-10-1 Oilers team that is heading for another summer of hoping to win yet another lottery.

There’s no light at the end of the tunnel right now for the Oilers and it’s going to take some serious re-shaping to turn things around. But will Chiarelli be the one in charge of that?

As for Hitchcock, whose status will be evaluated at the end of the season, he announced in April that he would be retiring after a season back with the Dallas Stars and has been a consultant with the team since. While the NHL’s third-winningest head coach has been able to find success from a number of stops in his career, it’s hard to imagine him pulling a miracle in Alberta and steadying what looks to be a sinking ship.

MORE: How much longer can Oilers go on like this?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL On NBCSN: Points starting to come for Sharks’ Erik Karlsson

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers at 10 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Offensively, things are going pretty good for the San Jose Sharks. Their 68 goals through 21 games has them near the top of the NHL.

Of those 68 goals, only six have come from their blue line with Erik Karlsson joining the “goals scored” club on Saturday night against St. Louis. The blast came on his 62nd shot of the season, which, along with his 95 percent PDO, shows that the opportunities have been there — it’s just that the puck hasn’t been going in for him.

“I’ve been feeling good all year, it just hasn’t worked out on the scoresheet,” Karlsson said after Saturday’s victory. “But sometimes that’s the way it is. I don’t think I’m doing anything different now. As a team, we’re progressing, and we’re playing better hockey at times. That includes me, and everyone in here.”

We know the kind of offense the Sharks can provide, especially from a back end that also features Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The September acquisition of Karlsson, who scored nine goals and recorded 62 points last season with Ottawa, only bolstered that as well as a power play that can easily break the 20 percent mark (19.7 percent success rate this season).

[How much longer can Oilers go on like this?]

But it hasn’t been an easy plug-and-play for Karlsson and the Sharks through a quarter of the season. Finding himself partnered mainly with Vlasic and Brenden Dillon, Karlsson’s impact on the offense is still a work-in-progress. 

“[H]e’s been playing some real good hockey, and I think he’s been really solid for us lately,” said Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer. “For me, the offense is a bonus. We know it’s going to be there and the numbers are going to be there at the end of the year because they have to be based on what he’s doing, but he’s been real solid all over the ice for us lately.”

DeBoer’s right. Karlsson, per Natural Stat Trick, is currently tied for the NHL lead among defensemen in individual shot attempts (120), top five in possession (59.92 Corsi percentage), top-10 in high-danger chances for (85), and top-10 in Corsi for relative percentage (5.61), which means the shot differential of shots directed at the opposing team’s net per 60 minutes when he’s on the ice. He’s currently on a three-game point streak with a goal and four assists.

So it’s not as if we’re seeing a different Karlsson now that he’s wearing teal instead of red and black. Through 21 games the bounces haven’t been going his way. But considering his body of evidence, sooner or later his impact will be felt in San Jose.

Randy Hahn (play-by-play) and Bret Hedican (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Oilers-Sharks from SAP Center in San Jose.

MORE: Ken Hitchcock returns to coaching, replaces McLellan in Edmonton

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Crosby closer to return; Heiskanen’s usage

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The AHL’s Cleveland Monsters and Rochester Americans will be taking part in a unique home-and-home series. The teams will host Nickelodeon nights on Dec. 26 (in Cleveland) and March 22 (in Rochester) and they’ll wear Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Foot Clan jerseys. [Amerks]

• “Mike Yeo had to go. This isn’t a free pass for him. But the core players on the St. Louis Blues have now been passengers on two ships that hit the iceberg.” [Post-Dispatch]

• The slow start by the Pittsburgh Penguins is as ugly as it looks. [Pensburgh]

• While Sidney Crosby is progressing towards a return to the Penguins’ lineup, Matt Cullen is now out “long-term,” according to Mike Sullivan. [Tribune-Review]

• A few days after Willie O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, his old team, the San Diego Gulls, honored him with throwback jerseys and a bobblehead. [Color of Hockey]

Mike Hoffman on returning to Ottawa Monday night: “It almost doesn’t feel like a road game. I spent a good chunk of my career here. I have a lot of good memories in this building. These are the fun games I look forward to, coming back to the place where you started.” [Ottawa Citizen]

• Another season of the Edmonton Oilers showcasing just how top heavy they are. [TSN]

• It’s time for Todd McLellan to go in Edmonton. [Edmonton Journal]

• Have you seen the pads Scott Darling will wear when the Carolina Hurricanes don the Hartford Whalers throwbacks? Beauty.

Brian’s Custom Sports

• The Sergei Bobrovsky / Artemi Panarin storyline continues to hover over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Will it turn out to be a distraction? [Sportsnet]

• The Dallas Stars’ usage of rookie defenseman Miro Heiskanen has been interesting and really makes most of his skillset. [Dallas Morning News]

• The Detroit Red Wings will be without Darren Helm for 6-8 weeks after the forward suffered a shoulder injury. [NHL.com]

• It’s time for the Anaheim Ducks to realize exactly what they are. [Anaheim Calling]

• Expand the NHL playoff format? No thanks. [Spector’s Hockey]

• How the NBA can be a blueprint for making hockey fun again. [Courier Post]

• A look at some of the most surprising developments so far of the 2018-19 NHL season. [Yardbarker]

• The soon-to-be 32nd NHL city has a rich history with the sport already. [Seattle Times]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blues fire Yeo, name Berube interim head coach

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After falling 2-0 to the Los Angeles Kings, the St. Louis Blues fired Mike Yeo, naming Craig Berube interim head coach late on Monday night.

This continues an astoundingly terrible November for NHL head coaches. Last season, there were no in-season firings across the league. Yeo now stands as the third head coach in November alone, following John Stevens and Joel Quenneville.

[Read more: Coach Q out in Chicago / Kings can Stevens]

Considering that the Kings fired Stevens, you almost wonder if Willie Desjardins exchanged a knowing glance with Berube at some point.

The timing is interesting, even beyond the coaching change happening after the Blues lost to another team that fired its head coach.

Despite landing Ryan O'Reillywho’s been absolutely fantastic in St. Louis – the Blues fell to 7-9-3, suffering their third shutout loss in four games. The Blues currently rest in last place in the Central with 17 standings points; only the lowly Kings rank lower in the West with 15.

Such a start simply wasn’t acceptable for the Blues, particularly after Yeo failed to take them to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Yeo leaves the Blues as an in-season firing not that long after being an in-season replacement. He took over for Ken Hitchcock during the 2016-17 season, coaching in 32 regular-season games as the Blues rallied to a postseason spot. Yeo was able to exact some revenge against his former team, the Minnesota Wild, as the Blues won the series in six games.

That would end up being the only playoff round Yeo would win as Blues head coach. They fell in six games to the Nashville Predators, and then St. Louis failed to earn a postseason berth in 2017-18. Now, 19 games into 2018-19, the Blues have made another change.

Much like Yeo, Berube traveled a path from NHL head coach (with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2013-14 and 2014-15) to assistant with the Blues, ultimately replacing Yeo now.

Teams certainly don’t aim to replace coaches, but especially while a season is in full swing. With that in mind, longtime Blues GM Doug Armstrong has to be feeling some serious heat after making that decision twice in three seasons.

As wily as Armstrong’s been at times (landing ROR, handily winning the Brayden Schenn trade, deftly timing the Kevin Shattenkirk trade), the Blues have been “good, but not good enough” for far too long.

Yeo wasn’t a disaster in St. Louis. In the end, it felt like the Blues were not necessarily adapting to the winds of change in the NHL.

The Blues need to get up to speed, and fast. If not, it might cost Armstrong and Berube their jobs.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.