Ralph Krueger

PHT Morning Skate: Faith in Quick; remembering Ted Green

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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.

• Todd McLellan is keeping the faith in a struggling Jonathan Quick. [LA Times]

• How an increase in cap space for the Flyers means good news for Chris Stewart, who remains on a PTO deal with the team. [Courier Post]

• How Blues’ goaltender Jordan Binnington is planning to silence his doubters. [ESPN]

• It’s early, but Ralph Krueger’s message is working so far for the Sabres. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• The frustrations levels are rising for the Devils. [NHL.com]

• Remembering longtime player, coach, and seven-time Stanley Cup winner Ted Green, who passed away last week at age 79. [Edmonton Journal]

• Bill Guerin is eager to make his mark as a first-time NHL GM with the Wild. [Tribune Review]

• Why it’s time for the Capitals to turn to Ilya Samsonov. [Puck Prose]

• ECHL forward Daniel Perez is among the Hispanic players who see Scott Gomez as a role model. [NHL.com]

• A look at Lucas Raymond, one of the top prospects in the 2020 NHL Draft. [Draft Analyst]

• How soon will the NHL’s early season offensive boon last? [Spector’s Hockey]

• Why Rasmus Sandin heading down to the AHL is the right move by the Maple Leafs. [Sportsnet]

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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.

Why are Sabres, Rangers, Oilers, Ducks off to hot starts?

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It’s far too early to talk about hot streaks for the Ducks, Sabres, Rangers and Oilers … but it’s far too fun not to. But before we get into that, you might be wondering: are any of these teams for real?

The quick answer isn’t sexy: we don’t know much of anything yet.

In 2018-19, the Devils began the season with a four-game winning streak, yet they were bad enough (31-41-10) to win the draft lottery and land Jack Hughes. Meanwhile, the Avalanche started off last season 6-1-2, and ended up proving that their 2017-18 breakthrough wasn’t a fluke.

So … yeah, apply your grains of salt here, but let’s dive into what’s driving some quick starts.

(Note: this post is limited to four teams that are off to hot starts who missed the playoffs in 2018-19. Hence, no Hurricanes, who made it to the 2019 Eastern Conference Final, for example.)

Anaheim Ducks (3-0-0, six points)

If someone told you that the Ducks began the season on a three-game winning streak, you’d probably assume that goaltending would be the key. And you’d be right.

John Gibson has earned all three wins, generating a ridiculous .970 save percentage, making at least 31 saves in each game so far.

As all-world as Gibson is, this pace is unsustainable. The Ducks have killed every penalty so far, going 7-for-7. Looking at Natural Stat Trick’s all-strengths stats, there are some absurd numbers, including Gibson making the save on a league-leading 94.12 percent of the high-danger scoring chances he’s faced.

It’s not all bad news for the Ducks, necessarily. The early returns on Dallas Eakins seem positive, as Anaheim is more or less breaking even in possession stats, which wasn’t always a safe assumption under former coach Randy Carlyle, who was notorious for submarining his team’s puck possession numbers.

The formula of Gibson (and, to an extent, strong backup Ryan Miller) plus respectable overall play and timely offense might just work for the Ducks. If nothing else, there’s a decent chance that they’ll make gains after a lousy 2018-19.

Just don’t expect Gibson to remain superhuman.

(If I had to bet on any goalie to be superb in 2019-20, it would be Gibson, though.)

Buffalo Sabres (3-0-1, seven points)

While the Ducks have had a perfect penalty kill so far, the Sabres’ power play has been outrageous. Buffalo leads the NHL with eight power play goals, converting on eight of 15 opportunities.

The Sabres have a power-play shooting percentage of 25. Last season, the Lightning led the NHL with a 21.64 power-play shooting percentage, while no one else even hit 19 (Boston was second at 18.84 percent).

Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin are tied for the league lead with five power-play points, while Victor Olofsson chisels out a reputation as “Goal-ofsson” for his deadly work on the man advantage.

So far, the Sabres’ expected goals on the power play was 3.17, which ranks third in Natural Stat Trick’s listings, so there’s certainly some strength to the unit. Perhaps that’s where Ralph Krueger really picked up some especially strong tricks in soccer?

The Sabres are playing over their heads, yet there are positive signs possession-wise.

Edmonton Oilers (3-0-0, six points)

With 14 goals on 80 SOG, the Oilers lead the NHL with a 17.5 shooting percentage.

Not shockingly, James Neal is on fire after that four-goal game, generating six goals on 14 SOG for a 42.9 shooting percentage. Connor McDavid‘s hot hand isn’t so surprising (22.2 percent), but Zack Kassian won’t convert three goals on five SOG (60 percent) very often.

Looking deeper at the Oilers’ stats, they’ve struggled with the seventh-worst Corsi For and Fenwick For percentages, although they’ve generated slightly more high-danger chances for than against (34-30) early on under Dave Tippett. There are worse strategies than “being middle-of-the-pack while having McDavid.”

New York Rangers (2-0-0, four points)

The Rangers have the highest PDO (1.098) so far this season with a high shooting percentage (16.13) and save percentage (93.67). You probably won’t be stunned to realize that the Oilers rank second in PDO (1.077), the Ducks come in fourth (1.058), and the Sabres are ninth (1.043).

Mika Zibanejad‘s been worthy of more attention during the last couple of years, but he won’t generate four points per game (he has eight in two games so far). Artemi Panarin could very well maintain strong chemistry with Zibanejad, but this pace will inevitably subside.

New York’s underlying numbers are rough thus far, even when you factor in score effects.

The Rangers’ 6-4 win against Winnipeg to open the season on Oct. 3 might be the template for the Rangers: lots of goals and chances going both ways, goalies ending up miserable, and chaos generally ensuing. It might not always be pretty, but it could end up being fun to watch.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

Victor ‘Goal-ofsson’ turning into another offensive weapon for Sabres

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At 24 years old, Buffalo Sabres forward Victor Olofsson is one of the NHL’s oldest rookies this season. But that extra development time at home in Sweden with MODO and Frolunda, as well as spending most of 2018-19 in the AHL with Rochester, is paying off.

Though he’s only played 10 NHL games, the Örnsköldsvik native has already tied an NHL record. His goal during Wednesday night’s 5-4 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens gave him six for his young career, with all of them coming on the power play.

Olofsson now joins such names as Craig Norwich, Sylvain Turgeon and Jeff Norton as players who scored their first six NHL goals on the power play.

Not bad for a 2014 seventh-round pick, eh?

This production from Olofsson, better known as “Goal-ofsson,” has been a long time coming. While he’s been helped playing alongside Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, he’s an older forward who’s been playing against men for years. It also helps that he played six games for the Sabres at the end of last season, which gave him an idea of the level he needed to reach to earn a regular roster spot and helped him feel much more comfortable in North America as he entered training camp.

It’s not just his offense that’s impressed. Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger, who has described the forward as “permanently dangerous,” has praised Olofsson’s work without the puck. That complete package has earned trust from the coaching staff.

But the offense is what will get Olofsson on the nightly highlights. As he makes his Calder Trophy case, his shot has proven to be incredibly lethal. Here are just two examples of how “permanently dangerous” he can be on the ice.

“I think probably the biggest thing is just to shoot it really quick,” Olofsson told the Sabres website last month. “Just to get the puck off the stick as fast as you can before the defenders can get his stick there or the goalie can get in position, because then you don’t have to be as accurate.   

“If you’re handling the puck a little bit too long, everyone is going to be in position and it’s going to be a lot harder for you to get that shot through. I think the biggest thing in my mind anyways is I’m just trying to get it off as quick as I can.”

The Sabres are 3-0-1 through four games and Olofsson, Eichel, Reinhart, Rasmus Dahlin, and Jeff Skinner are helping lead the way offensively. Things are looking up so far under Krueger, but as Eichel understands after last season, consistency will be key for this season. Same goes for their new rookie weapon up front. But maturity and his confidence in his first full NHL season will serve him well.

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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.

Sabres have renewed hopes with Krueger on board as coach

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — New coach. New hopes. Maybe this is the season in which the Buffalo Sabres’ long-awaited turnaround finally begins.

”Let’s get through Day 1 first,” Kyle Okposo said with a laugh upon reporting for training camp.

It’s not as if Okposo doesn’t welcome the upbeat, motivational vibe new coach Ralph Krueger is introducing to a team the spent the past two years mostly underachieving under Phil Housley. An out-of-the-box hire if there ever was one, the just turned 60-year-old Krueger is highly respected in hockey circles and returns to the bench after spending five years as chairman of soccer’s Southampton FC of the English Premier League.

What gives Okposo reason for pause is how long it will take Krueger’s philosophies to sink in on a team called ”fragile” and ”soft” by players and previous coaches.

”There’s going to be a big buy-in,” said Okposo, who was struck by the message Krueger delivered during the team’s first meeting.

”I talked to five or six guys after. Ralph talked for 15 or 20 minutes, and every single one of them said they wanted to run through a wall after he was done talking,” he said.

The Sabres have been big on talk before in September. The trouble has been a persistent inability to translate what they say into actual success once the regular season begins, which is a big reason why they’re now on their fifth coach in six-plus years.

This is a team in the midst of an eight-season playoff drought – the NHL’s longest active streak – during which Buffalo has finished last in the overall standings three times. And the Sabres are coming off a season in which their maddening tendency to crumble at the first sign of adversity was largely evident.

After briefly sitting first overall in late November following a franchise-record-matching 10-game winning streak, Buffalo proceeded to win just 16 of its final 57 games to finish 27th overall with a 33-39-10 record.

”Yeah, we’ve been through a lot of tough times together in the organization with tough years. It’s been up and down,” captain Jack Eichel said. ”But I think you can use that experience to better yourself.”

Krueger’s vast hockey experience includes coaching the Swiss national team, serving as a consultant to Canada’s gold-medal-winning team at the 2014 Winter Games, and coaching Team Europe to a second-place finish in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. He also was an NHL assistant in Edmonton, and spent 2012-13 as the Oilers head coach before being fired following a 19-22-7 finish.

Known for being a hockey innovator, Krueger has introduced a mantra of ”Playing Connected” to Buffalo to build team unity both on and off the ice.

”I just want them to understand that we’re all in this together, and we all need to work together on this,” Krueger said.

WHO’S HERE: Krueger, forwards Marcus Johansson (free agency), Jimmy Vesey (trade with New York Rangers), and rookie first-round pick Dylan Cozens, and defensemen Colin Miller (trade with Vegas) and Henri Jokiharju (trade with Chicago).

WHO’S NOT: Forwards Jason Pominville (unsigned) and Alexander Nylander (traded to Chicago).

KEY PLAYERS: Jeff Skinner must begin showing himself worthy of Buffalo’s commitment in re-signing him to an eight-year, $72 million contract after scoring a career-best 40 goals. Eichel needs to build on a career-best season (28 goals and 82 points). The same goes for defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, a rookie of the year finalist as an 18-year-old last year, in which the Swedish-born player wowed fans with his deft skating and play-making abilities, while struggling at times adapting to the NHL’s smaller ice surface. Can Casey Mittelstadt shrug off his rookie year struggles and fill the team’s much-needed void as a second-line center? Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen‘s future remains in question. He continues to be the focus of trade speculation after spending the offseason suggesting he would prefer to play elsewhere.

OUTLOOK: It’s difficult to assess how good – or bad – the Sabres were the past two seasons under Housley, the Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman, who showed signs of being overwhelmed as a first-time head coach. On the plus side, GM Jason Botterill enters the third year continuing to add depth and youth to an organization left mostly barren under former GM Tim Murray. He could have a chance to stockpile even more talent by trading Ristolainen, who has an NHL salary-cap friendly three years left on his six-year, $32.4 million contract.

PREDICTION: Though it might be too much to suggest the Sabres ending their playoff drought under Krueger, they have the talent to at the very least stay in contention in the final weeks. Finishing with 90 points – something Buffalo hasn’t done since 2010-11 – would be considered an achievable goal.

Consistency is key as Eichel eyes end to Sabres’ playoff drought

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One of the main goals Jack Eichel believes that the Buffalo Sabres need to reach in 2019-20 is finding consistency in a positive way. Points dropped are points dropped and teams can leapfrog you in the standings easily if you’re going through a bit of a skid.

“There’s going to be games this year where we don’t have it — maybe we’ve been on the road, maybe we’ve been traveling, maybe it’s a back-to-back,” Eichel told NBC Sports during the NHL Player Media Tour earlier this month. “It’s a long season and every night’s not your best night. The best teams find ways to scratch a point out here or there or maybe win a game that they don’t deserve to win. For us, it’s about doing that, finding consistency night in and night out and giving ourselves the best chance to have success.”

The Sabres felt both ends of the consistency scale in 2018-19. After the first two months of season they were top of the NHL, powered by a 10-game win streak. Everything was going well and the dream of ending their then seven-season playoff drought was alive.

When the Sabres went for win No. 11 in a row against Tampa Bay in late November, that’s when the wheels began to fall off. That night would be the start of a five-game losing streak and a final 57-game stretch where Buffalo would tumble down the Eastern Conference standings, winning consecutive games only twice the rest of the season and losing 15 of their last 19 games.

A summer of change saw head coach Phil Housley replaced by Ralph Krueger and general manager Jason Botterill add Jimmy Vesey and Marcus Johansson up front, while bolstering the blue line with the acquisitions of Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju. Jeff Skinner was also re-signed long-term.

Eichel was impressed when he met with Krueger in Slovakia during the IIHF World Championship last spring. A chat over coffee turned into a multi-hour conversation ranging from hockey to politics to classic rock music.

“He’s so smart, he’s so intriguing as a person,” Eichel said. “I think he has a great vision for our group and I think all the guys are going to respond really well to him.”

[MORE: Krueger holds key to unlocking Sabres’ potential]

Eichel will have a close relationship with Krueger as the team’s captain. His first season wearing the ‘C’ was a mixed one. Personally, the 22-year-old forward hit career highs in goals, assists, and points, but that success came as the team he was leading stumbled in the final three-quarters of the season.

Year one as captain was a learning experience for Eichel. He understood the pressures that come with the captaincy, and now he feels he’s better prepared for the responsibilities that come with the role.

“I felt like I needed to up my game for our team to have success,” he said. “Unfortunately, we struggled in the second half, but the first half of the year a lot of things went well. [We’ve got to] try to emulate that for a full season this year.”

Eichel got a close-up view of what success in the NHL looks like in June. He was in attendance for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden cheering on former teammates Ryan O'Reilly (Sabres) and Matt Grzelcyk (Boston University). That experience has only motivated him even more.

The Sabres have made the postseason only once since Terry Pegula purchased the franchise in Feb. 2011. Money has been spent to try and turn the team into a consistent winner, but that’s failed so far. There’s still plenty of roster reshaping for Botterill to do, but another lost season in Buffalo could lead to more changes, and the players understand the pressure to win in the city and what’s at stake this season.

“It’s almost impossible to not feel it,” Eichel said. “With the drought that our franchise has been in for the playoffs, the ups and downs we’ve went through, being a high pick and coming in with a lot of these new young players like Rasmus [Dahlin], I think that we feel pressure to perform and bring success to Buffalo. 

“It can be tough at times, but sometimes it brings the best out of you and brings out the competitive side. We want to win. We want to win bad.”

MORE:
Previewing the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.