Never at a loss for a rustic simile, Brian Sutter likened coaching the Blackhawks to riding a horse before they fell to the Edmonton Oilers 1-0 Tuesday night in 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 the Canadian province of Alberta. "Maybe he isn't quite ready to win the race yet. But you're teaching him how to win."
At times Tuesday, the Hawks looked like plow-horses. In the first period they took only one shot on goal--by Tony Amonte with 16 minutes 13 seconds elapsed. In the first period they failed on two power-play attempts and in the second they were unsuccessful on five
The Oilers' goal was scored by Mike Grier late in the first period when he latched onto the rebound of Todd Marchant's short from the opposite side and, shooting from the right circle, fired the puck past Jocelyn Thibault.
In the second period the Hawks finally got some shots on goal but Edmonton goalie Tommy Salo rejected their nine attempts.
The Hawks went back to playing plow-horse hockey in the third period and took only one shot in the period to finish with 11, which tied a franchise record for fewest shots in a game.
Downey time: Rookie right wing Aaron Downey was on the ice for the first time. He replaced Ryan VandenBussche on the fourth line with left wing Bob Probert and center Pascal Rheaume.
"It's not because of what Vandy didn't do," said coach Brian Sutter after the morning skate. "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 five games.
Downey said he wasn't frustrated when Sutter didn't use him in the victory in Vancouver and the loss in Calgary. "Just making the 23-man roster was a real neat feeling," Downey said. "I've got to be upbeat--if I'm playing or if I'm not.
"When I play I try to go out and 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."
Spectators: Joining VandenBussche as healthy scratches were center Steve Dubinsky and defenseman Steve Poapst. Both Dubinsky and Poapst also sat out the first two games.
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.
"It has been pretty different," said Thomas when asked if playing left wing had entailed a major adjustment. "The last time I had played left wing was 11 years ago, the first time I was playing in Chicago. I played there with Troy Murray and Dirk Graham quite a bit and sometimes with Denis Savard and Steve Larmer."
During Saturday's 4-0 loss in Calgary, Sutter conducted a first line experiment by switching Tony Amonte to the left side and putting Thomas back on right wing. "Tony has been very effective on the right side and he plays so well with [center] Alex Zhamnov that I think it's better for me to go to another line than to have him change positions," Thomas said.
Minor move: The Hawks made a trade Tuesday, sending Nathan Perrott, the physical right wing who'd been playing on their Norfolk farm team in the American Hockey League, to Nashville for future considerations.
Perrott was scoreless in his two games in Norfolk and failed to pick up a point in his only exhibition game with the Hawks.