Never at a loss for a rustic simile, Brian Sutter likened coaching the Blackhawks to riding a horse before his team was shut out by the Edmonton Oilers 1-0 Tuesday night at the Skyreach Centre.
"You've got to understand the type of horse you're riding," said the coach, who spends the off-season farming in this Canadian province of Alberta. "Maybe he isn't quite ready to win the race yet. But you're teaching him how to win."
For much of Tuesday's game, the Hawks looked more like plowhorses than racehorses.
They had only one shot on goal in each of the first and third periods and finished with 11, tying the team's all-time low.
The power-play power outage they encountered in Saturday night's 4-0 loss at Calgary continued as they failed to score in eight attempts.
Nevertheless, Sutter put a positive spin on the effort.
"We lost the hockey game 1-0," he said. "That means we were one shot away from getting something. You've got to learn to play in games like this before you win them. We'll see more of these kinds of games when we play Minnesota and Nashville and Columbus.
"Go in the other dressing room and to a man they'll be real proud of how well they played."
The 11 shots were the fewest given up by the Oilers since they entered the NHL in 1979-80 after the demise of the World Hockey Association. Their previous low was 14.
Oilers goalie Tommy Salo didn't have to make a save until 16 minutes 13 seconds had elapsed.
"When it's not going well, you have to put the puck on net," said Tony Amonte, who took that first shot. "We were trying to make the perfect pass, the perfect play."
The lone goal was scored by Mike Grier late in the first period when his shot from the right circle eluded Jocelyn Thibault.
Thibault's 28 saves, generally strong defensive play in even-strength situations and the penalty-killers' flawless performance in six short-handed efforts were the Hawks' highlights.
History lesson: There were only three other times in the Hawks' 76-year history that they were held to 11 shotsApril 18, 1998, at Dallas, and on Jan. 21, 2000, and March 26, both against St. Louis at the United Center.
Downey's debut: Hawks rookie right wing Aaron Downey was on the ice for the first time this season, replacing Ryan VandenBussche on the fourth line with left wing Bob Probert and center Pascal Rheaume. Because of the glut of penalties by both teams, Downey worked only 11 shifts and spent just 6 minutes 12 seconds on the ice.
"It's not because of what [VandenBussche] didn't do," said Sutter. "Aaron played well in the exhibitions and he deserves to get into the lineup. He's very visible when he's out there. He's a green, raw kid who has come a long way in the last couple years."
Like the veteran VandenBussche, Downey is a physical player. During the exhibition season the rookie had a team-high 24 penalty minutes in his five games.
Downey said he wasn't frustrated when Sutter didn't use him in the victory at Vancouver or the loss in Calgary.
"Just making the 23-man roster was a real neat feeling," he said. "I've got to be upbeat if I'm playing or if I'm not. When I play, I try to create some energy and help us win. There's no better feeling than helping your team win. That's why I'm in this game. That's my high."
Old role: Steve Thomas didn't mind being moved from an unfamiliar position, left wing, on the first line to his usual position, right wing, on the third line Tuesday.
"The last time I had played left wing was 11 years ago, the first time I was playing in Chicago," he said. "I played there with Troy Murray and Dirk Graham quite a bit and sometimes with Denis Savard and Steve Larmer."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun