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NHL: Which new coach is impressing the most?

Ten NHL teams entered the 2022/23 season with a new head coach behind the bench and several have made a strong start to the new campaign.

Those include Bruce Cassidy, who was surprisingly let go by the Boston Bruins after six seasons in charge, with the Vegas Golden Knights (4-2-0), as well as Peter DeBoer, who was replaced by Cassidy in Vegas before being appointed by the Dallas Stars (4-0-1).

The most impressive start, though, has been by Cassidy's replacement in Boston, Jim Montgomery, who is 5-1-0 to begin his Bruins career.

He is +1300 to deliver the Stanley Cup for Boston in his first season as coach, with the Golden Knights +1600 and the Stars +2200.

Montgomery's second chance

After being fired from his first NHL coaching job by Dallas in December 2019 due to unprofessional conduct, 53-year-old Montgomery underwent rehab for alcoholism and is making the most of his second chance with the Bruins.

In two seasons with the Stars, Montgomery had a 61-43-10 record and led them to the playoffs for the first time in three years, reaching the second round where they lost to eventual champions St. Louis Blues.

Accepting that his dismissal by the Stars was deserved, Montgomery sought help and returned to the NHL in September 2020 as an assistant coach for the Blues, where he stayed until his hiring by Boston.

Instant bond

Having faced his own demons, several Bruins players have spoken positively about Montgomery’s impact and the humanistic relationship formed with the group in the early going, something which was said to have broken down under Cassidy.

Captain Patrice Bergeron signed a new one-year contract with Boston in the summer following news of Montgomery’s hiring, and his presence of mind to collect the puck on the final buzzer of their opening night win (5-2 over Washington Capitals) and award it to his coach spoke volumes.

There were plenty of players who deserved the accolade from the captain, including rookie forward Jakub Lauko, David Pastrnak who had a goal and three assists or David Krejci, who scored in his return to the team after a year away playing in his homeland of Czech Republic.

But Bergeron chose to hand it to Montgomery.

The coach reflected: "A lot of guys could have gotten it and the fact they made me feel part of it right away, because they knew it was my first win leading the Bruins. It meant a lot to me and makes you feel good."

Dealing with absentees

Boston's start under Montgomery is even more impressive considering they have done it without forward Brad Marchand and defence pair Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk who are recovering from off-season surgery.

Marchand led the Bruins with 80 points last season (32 goals, 48 assists) and McAvoy was their most productive defenceman with 56 points (10 goals, 46 assists).

The fact Boston tops the NHL with 27 goals and are among the leaders for shots, shot attempts and high danger chances says a lot about their depth, and the structure and systems put in place by Montgomery.

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Czech line

Montgomery has earned an early win by combining Czech team-mates Krejci, David Pastrnak and new forward Pavel Zacha on a forward line.

The trio have combined for 16 points (six goals, ten assists) in five games with Pastrnak leading the team with eight points (three goals, five assists).

While offensively dominant, each of the three has received criticism in the past for their lack of defensive responsibility, so, while the line may not remain long-term, it at least offers Montgomery a plan B for a team whose offensive depth was sadly lacking in the playoffs last season - as they exited at the first-round stage to Carolina Hurricanes.

Striking the right balance

Montgomery’s wish for the Bruins to play on the front foot has paid dividends, with them also doing an improved job of scoring goals in dirty areas around the net.

However, the attacking style has play has seen Boston look somewhat vulnerable at the other end with 19 goals conceded (3.16 average per-game) and they sit high up the charts of most shots given up on net and in five-on-five play.

Montgomery’s challenge then will be to develop a healthier balance between offence and attack, but given the collaborative attitude shown between players and coach so far, they have plenty of opportunity to figure that out.

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