It felt like just yesterday that there were questions about Phil Housley being the coach of the Buffalo Sabres for the foreseeable future. We all know how poorly last season went and the doubts on the second-year coach continued with some struggles early this season.
Fast forward a few weeks and a nine-game winning streak later; Housley is an early season favorite for the Jack Adams Award.
The criticism and doubts about the Sabres head coach were obviously a little early. However, the fan base entered this season running very thin on patience after a long run of bad hockey.
It took a little time for the new and returning players to find their continuity early on. Nearly three months into the season it looks as though he’s got his team to buy into his system.
They’re playing that attacking style of game that gets the defense involved in the offense. The blue line has contributed 12 goals and 54 points through 24 games. That puts them on pace for 185 points as a group. The defense contributed 19 goals and 93 points in all of last season. They could eclipse those numbers by the end of January.
Housley has also managed to put the proper trios together in the forward ranks. Some people raised their eyebrow (including myself) at the idea of putting Jason Pominville on the top line with Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner. That line only ended up becoming the hottest forward trio in the league for a few weeks.
He’s found a way to utilize underperforming players like John Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons this season. Both players, especially Larsson, are having strong bounce-back seasons on one of the better fourth lines in the league according to the analytics.
Just a week ago it looked as though Tage Thompson was lost and destined for an extended stint in the AHL. Housley stuck with his development plan for the 20-year-old and made one switch by placing him on his off wing.
Thompson has scored three goals in four games and looks like the player we heard about when the Sabres acquired him from the St. Louis Blues. He’s been a factor in the last few games and has found ways to get off his excellent shot.
Housley has his finger right on the pulse of his club. Although it hasn’t been popular, he’s made good decisions in the rotations of his forwards in the bottom of the lineup to maintain fresh legs during this difficult recent stretch.
He’s made critical coaching decisions on rotating Reinhart and Pominville in on the top line, sparking comeback victories against the Vancouver Canucks and Minnesota Wild.
Overall he has the third-ranked team in the entire league, the second-place team in the Atlantic Divison, and a team that is eight points clear of a playoff spot entering play tonight. The Sabres are on pace for around 116 points this season. That would be a 54 point improvement from a year ago.
It’s unlikely the Sabres keep up that pace, but the odds that they’re a playoff team this season are in their favor right now. They could be the team that goes from worst to the playoffs, similar to what we saw last season with the New Jersey Devils and Colorado Avalanche.
If the Sabres can keep up their solid play through the last 58 games of the season and make the playoffs; it’ll be difficult to argue for another coach to be awarded coach of the year over Housley.