There's no such thing as partial credit in the NHL, but with the trade deadline and final quarter of the regular schedule fast approaching, maybe it's time to look at the coaches who have done the best job thus far. In so doing, it is imminently clear that while the coaching position is the same across the board, situations differ greatly.
First, there are teams that came in with lofty expectations. Take, for instance, the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings coached by
The same is true of Babcock in Detroit. His veteran crew has been the model of consistency for four-and-a-half months. Their focus has been impeccable. Babcock cited his team's "willingness to show up to work on a nightly basis" as the reason for their success. He knows he has a skilled group and one with so much experience that preparation isn't an issue. Still, his charges have been more attentive to detail this season. As Babcock put it, "When you combine hard work with skill, you're going to get results." The Red Wings are proof positive.
Then you have teams with debilitating injuries that have carried on admirably. Certainly the Pittsburgh Penguins and Colorado Avalanche fit that bill. Somehow, though,
In Therrien's case, losing goaltender
Therrien's approach was to sit down with Malkin and explain to him that as the team's best player, "It was his responsibility to make those around him better." The catch was that Therrien told him, "Having said that, don't feel that you have to do it all by yourself."
No matter the message, Malkin has performed in spectacular fashion, leading the Penguins to the top of the Atlantic Division on the strength of efforts like Sunday's four-point performance against the Flyers in a 4-3 victory.
Out west, Quenneville had the same starting goaltender/star player injury combination conundrum with
Finally, there is the surprise team category. Undoubtedly, the Phoenix Coyotes and Washington Capitals qualify. What
Gretzky committed his full attention to his coaching duties this season and the Coyotes have benefited. If he finds a way to get his team to win at home down the stretch -- the Coyotes are under .500 in Jobing.com Arena (11-13-2) while owning the second-best road record in the conference (17-11-2) -- Gretzky's group might just stun everyone and sneak into the playoffs. What a feat that would be in the ultra-competitive West.
The Capitals are authoring the story of the season, though. Boudreau took over November 22 when they were 6-14-2 -- worst mark in the NHL. Since then, only Detroit has been better. The Caps offense is fourth-best in the NHL since his arrival even though is has lost top centerman
So what did Boudreau change?
"Our defensive zone coverage is the same, but we're more aggressive in the neutral zone and up ice on the forecheck. The biggest difference is the mindset that yes, we're going to make mistakes, but now they'll be on our terms."
That's a great line in what is shaping up as the story of the NHL season. Coach-of-the-Year honors without coaching the entire season? Just an intriguing possibility at this point.
Boudreau's boys take on three Southeast rivals this week, all on the road. First up: the Thrashers in Atlanta on Wednesday. The two teams are separated by only one point, so the Caps can grab a little breathing room with a win. Then come the Panthers in Miami and the Lightning in Tampa Bay. With the Hurricanes (currently tied for second with Atlanta) facing the Bruins in Boston on Monday, the Penguins at home on Thursday, and Panthers at home on Saturday, the Caps have a shot at opening some daylight in the tightly-contested division.