In the world of professional sports, there’s often no time or place for nostalgia and good memories. That’s the unfortunate position in which Gerard Gallant found himself in the middle of January with the Vegas Golden Knights. His replacement Peter DeBoer will also be feeling the same pressure.
Changing of the Guard
Despite leading a newly founded franchise to the Stanley Cup Finals in their debut season, and regardless of following that up with guiding them to the Playoffs last season, hugely frustrating progress during the current campaign eventually led to Gallant being fired. Not without some measure of irony, the Golden Knights turned to a coach who ended their Playoff ambitions prematurely last year.
Peter DeBoer was appointed having previously led the San Jose Sharks to four consecutive appearances in the Playoffs. This included an appearance in the Stanley Cup finals during his first season at the helm. It was followed by First Round and Second Round exits, then reaching the Conference Finals last season. The Sharks having eliminated the Golden Knights along the way.
— NHL (@NHL) January 15, 2020
Nevertheless, DeBoer also found his neck on the block this season with the Sharks, fired after 33 games of the 2019-20 campaign and with a disappointing 15-16-2 record, not to mention behind the Golden Knights in the Pacific Division standings. Still, he’s the man who GM Kelly McCrimmon turned to. He’ hopeful the experienced and otherwise moderately successful head coach would spark the turnaround required to put the Playoff ambitions back on track.
Peter DeBoer Heads Into Battle
Can the Golden Knights realistically maintain any realistic ambitions of a tilt at the Stanley Cup this year? The team remains amongst the leading Wild Card contenders. They can still finish in the top three of the Pacific Division remains too tight to call. Heading into February, there’s a five-way fight involving Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Arizona and of course, Vegas.
The Golden Knights will need to improve if they are to reach the Playoffs. They have a strong roster, and the latest NHL betting has Vegas priced at +1300 to win the Stanley Cup this year, which means they’re actually amongst the six favorites. However, DeBoer needs to quickly start getting the best from his misfiring side.
? DeBoer: I liked a lot of things. I thought our defensemen played well; I thought Nic Hague did a great job. There are way more positives than negatives here. pic.twitter.com/5yutc2v100
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) January 17, 2020
The positive bounce of a new head coach was in effect when the Golden Knights earned a 4-2 win at the Ottawa Senators. However, there was no lasting euphoria. In their next game on the road, Vegas were handed a 5-4 shootout loss by the Montreal Canadiens, made all the more agonizing after having fought back from 3-0 and 4-2 deficits. The subsequent 2-3 defeat against the Boston Bruins came after a positive start was accompanied by a 3rd Period collapse.
Challenging Crusade for the Golden Knights
Heading into the final run of the Regular Season, one thing is clear. The Golden Knights can’t afford to lose any more ground. Sure, it’s not easy adjusting to a new locker room or make instantly sweeping changes. However, there are early signs of general improvements to come, as DeBoer starts to implant his own ideas and preferences.
DeBoer is spreading shifts amongst the forwards more evenly. He’s also getting the team pressuring the puck with more efficiency and showing plenty more aggression in their overall play. More changes will come, and should they settle quickly amongst the players, there’s every reason to believe the Golden Knights will be Playoff contenders come Postseason.
Should they surmount that first hurdle, with DeBoer at the helm, the Golden Knights will have every chance of making a serious push for the Stanley Cup Finals this season. The evolution of this team under the leadership of DeBoer, if nothing else, will certainly make for interesting observation.