Joel Quenneville has the task of reviving a Chicago Blackhawks team whose "flat" play led to Denis Savard's firing. On Saturday, he'll make his debut as Blackhawks coach in an arena where he has won 193 games.
Two days after their surprising dismissal of Savard and hiring of Quenneville, the Blackhawks travel to Scottrade Center to face the St. Louis Blues, a team Quenneville coached for eight seasons and is the all-time winningest coach.
Quenneville went 307-191-18 with 77 ties with St. Louis before spending the past three seasons with Colorado, leaving after the Avalanche were swept out of the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
The Blackhawks cited a need for a more experienced coach and one who will keep them on track for their first playoff appearance since 2002, when they lost 4-1 to St. Louis. Chicago has started this season 1-2-1, and the move came less than 24 hours after the team's first victory of the season, 4-1 Wednesday over the Phoenix Coyotes.
"It was a flat camp, and we got out of the gate flat," Chicago general manager Dale Tallon said Thursday. "It just didn't seem that we carried over the energy that we had to finish the year last year. We felt we needed to send a message and invigorate this team."
Chicago ranks near the bottom of the league on the power play, scoring once in 19 opportunities. Free-agent signee Cristobal Huet has yet to record a victory in net and has an .893 save percentage in two games. The goalie the Blackhawks placed on waivers before the season began, Nikolai Khabibulin, stopped 29 shots in Wednesday's victory.
Quenneville has an established track record for getting teams to the postseason. He guided the Avalanche to two playoff appearances in three seasons, and led the Blues to the postseason in each of his first seven years.
After St. Louis replaced Quenneville with Mike Kitchen in February 2004, the team made the playoffs. The Blues haven't returned to the postseason since and have finished last in the Central Division two of the last three years.
St. Louis is off to a 3-1-0 start this season, and is coming off its best offensive output in a 45-game span, beating the Dallas Stars 6-1 on Thursday. The Blues got a goal each from defensemen Jay McKee, Eric Brewer and Steve Wagner after seeing their defensemen score just 17 times last season.
"We were fortunate to have three shots from the point go in," McKee said. "We want to add to the offense as much as we can."
The turnaround of the Blues' power-play unit is a big reason for the team's strong start. St. Louis has scored on nine of its 18 power-play opportunities after ranking last in the league last season, converting just 14.1 percent of its chances.
The Blues have also killed off 16 of 17 power plays, putting them nearly 10 percent ahead of last year's 84.4 penalty kill rate.
Keith Tkachuk has five goals and has scored in each of the first four games for St. Louis, while Paul Kariya has seven assists. Manny Legace has won all three of his starts with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage.
Chicago has won the last two and five of the previous seven meetings with St. Louis. Both of the Blues' wins over that stretch have come at the Scottrade Center, where they've won three of five over the Blackhawks.