This season, diehard VGK fan and legendary combat sports columnist Kevin Iole will be delivering columns a few times a month on Sundays.
Throughout this largely cursed Golden Knights’ season, there has been one constant. Just about anything bad that can go wrong in the 2021-22 campaign has, but that hasn’t impacted the one area which most directly correlates with the quality of their head coach: Their effort.
There have been games when they have been overmatched, most notably the 6-0 drubbing in Calgary on Feb. 9 and the 7-3 debacle in Winnipeg on March 22.
Through it all, though, the one constant has been that they played hard. That’s a credit to Coach Pete DeBoer. That was on full display, especially in the 3rd period, of Saturday afternoon’s pulsating 5-4 overtime victory over the Blackhawks. The Knights overcame a 3-0 deficit after 40 minutes to win in overtime, something that doesn’t happen if the coach has lost the team.
Whenever a team that is expected to win loses as much as the Golden Knights have lost this season, speculation mounts that the coach is going to be replaced. There is no denying that owner Bill Foley, president of hockey operations George McPhee and general manager Kelly McCrimmon showed a surprisingly quick trigger finger when they got rid of Gerard Gallant in 2020.
Particularly throughout the 0-5 road trip that saw them lose by a combined score of 23-11 to the Flyers, Sabres, Penguins, Blue Jackets and Jets, the anticipation that Foley and Co. would make a coaching change was intense.
Fans far too often believe a coaching change is the answer, when the truth is it’s usually a lot more subtle than that. This year, as the Knights have struggled to score — they entered Saturday’s game 12th in goals scored — fans have pointed to DeBoer’s system as a reason they’re not scoring.
That’s just a cop-out, an excuse, and has nothing to do with the real reason they can’t score. It has nothing to do with system. It’s far simpler: DeBoer had a lot better players to deal with last season.
Mark Stone led the team in scoring with 61 points, and played in 55 of the 56 games. That’s 98.2 percent of all games. After missing Saturday’s game, Stone has played in 28 of 68 games, or 41.2 percent. Max Pacioretty has played in 29 of 68 games this year, 42.6 percent, compared to 48 of 56 last year, when he appeared in 85.7 percent of the games. Jonathan Marchessault has played in 91.2 percent of the games this year after suiting up on Saturday, but was in 98.2 percent of their games last year after playing in all but one last season.
There’s more, but you get the point.
DeBoer has been replacing guys like Stone, Pacioretty, Marchessault, Reilly Smith and others on his scoring lines with the likes of Jake Leschyshyn, Jonas Rondbjerg, Paul Cotter and Keegan Kolesar. News flash: They’re not going to score as much, or at the same rate, as Stone & Co.
It’s DeBoer’s coaching or his Xs & Os. Most experts would rank the Islanders’ Barry Trotz ahead of DeBoer as a coach, and there’s no argument about that here. Trotz will be in the Hall of Fame when he’s done. But the Islanders have been ravaged by injuries this season and guess what: It’s going to take a miracle for them to make the playoffs.