Folks, this season was a hell of a ride. This was my third season writing at LHH, with many more to come in the future. The first two seasons didn’t result in any playoff action, disappointingly, and after the events of this summer, it seemed like there wasn’t going to be any playoffs any time soon for this organization and this writer.
I never would have predicted this would be the season they got back there. A glance at the roster would show that while this team had some skill and a lot of grit and character, there were a lot more question marks. But Barry Trotz and his esteemed staff came in and revamped the way these guys think the game and they bought in wholeheartedly, to wildly excellent and utterly surprising results. Who would’ve thunk that a team that lost its best player of the last nine years would go on to have its best season as a franchise in almost 35 years?
The goaltending was better than any of us could’ve hoped for, as well as the team defense. Credit to Trotz, Lane Lambert, and John Gruden for coaching a superb structure into this team, and credit to Mitch Korn and Piero Greco for their work with two goalies coming off rough seasons last year. Hell, even some credit should go to Scott Gomez; the point totals decreased for almost everyone on the team, as was to be expected with a tight structure and less skill throughout the team, but his work with the guys in the offensive zone was still admirable. That power play was clicking in the postseason, and it was really set up well for most of the regular season, even if they weren’t getting the results.
But coaching can only go so far — the players must buy in and work hard to achieve a strong record and playoff appearance, and they absolutely did. Credit to Anders Lee for his excellent captaincy, setting the tone for what the players should feel throughout the season. Credit to all the forwards for sacrificing some of the high-flying offense from last season, and the point totals, for overall structure and positioning. Credit to the defenders for taking the pointers offered by Trotz and the crew and accepting their challenges. Credit to Thomas Greiss for a remarkable turnaround from his sub-.900 save percentage last season and for graciously accepting the role of backup in the postseason.
But most of all, credit to Robin Lehner, and a huge thanks to him for this season. When training camp opened, he opened up, too, revealing the dark struggles he suffered for so much of his adult life that came to a head in early 2018. He got clean and got help for his bipolar disorder and handled the ups and downs of this season splendidly as the team rallied around him. Between himself, Greiss, and the team defense, they were able to allow more than 100 fewer goals than they did last season and allow the fewest in the entire NHL.
There are quite a few pending UFAs with this team, so it’s tough to picture what this team is gonna look like next year. It may not go as well, though I have faith in Lou Lamoriello understanding that this team desperately needs high-end skill. But that’ll never take away from the magic of this 103-point season, one that resulted in home-ice advantage in not one, but two playoff rounds, and a sweep of an arch-rival and successful team in the Penguins. Sucks how it ended, but credit to the Carolina Hurricanes. I hate them right this minute, but they have a great team and I wouldn’t be upset to see them win it all (damn you, though, Jaccob Slavin — how is your stick always in the right spot?!)
Thank you Dom, as always, for giving me the opportunity to write here a few years ago and for being an amazing writer in whose footsteps I try to follow, and the rest of the LHH writers for their excellent contributions that make this site the gold-standard in fan blogs everywhere. And thank you so much to all you crazy cats that read this site every day and comment constantly. It’s so cool that some of you have fostered real-life friendships from this little website of ours, and I appreciate that you put up with, and even occasionally enjoy, my rantings and ravings, including this one. (I’m sorry, I’m trying to be more succinct but I clearly still have some work to do.)