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Central: Quenneville loves environment at United Center

by Dan Rosen /
Joel Quenneville remembers skating on the ice in Chicago Stadium when the old barn was packed with screaming Blackhawks fans. It hasn't been too long since he brought his St. Louis Blues into the United Center to play key divisional games in front of the great Chicago fans.

Now that he's behind the bench for the resurgent Blackhawks, who lead the NHL in attendance this season by averaging 21,377 fans for their first 7 home games, Quenneville finally can enjoy what the Blackhawks' faithful offer.

"It's night and day," the Hawks coach told "It's a great motivator for our club. With their backing it creates a great environment with excitement and noise. The pace of the game is quicker when they're into it. It's been a great start. It's 21,000 every night. It has to be the greatest place to play."

The Hawks are 5-1-2 since Quenneville took over for Denis Savard on Oct. 16, and his philosophy of skating hard at all times, including practices, and pushing the puck forward whenever possible is becoming instinctive for the second-place club.

"We just wanted to make sure we played hard, bottom line," Quenneville said. "That's the prerequisite with every team. That's one standard that should always be there. We wanted to play harder and concentrate on a few things."

Quenneville praise Savard's choice of Jonathan Toews as team captain despite that he's 20. He said he's been thoroughly impressed with the entire group, especially with second-year sensation Patrick Kane.

Kane was a big Savard supporter, but he has rallied around Quenneville and now has 6 goals and 9 assists through 12 games.

"He's a special player," Quenneville said. "He's one of those guys who has really good patience and vision and awareness to what is going on. He knows how to go to those quiet areas. He's a great passer and offensively he's a gifted kid."

The Hawks' goaltending situation has been a hot topic of conversation throughout the NHL, especially in the media, all season. Will they trade Nikolai Khabibulin is maybe the most asked question.

Quenneville, though, doesn't understand what the big deal is all about.

He sees only positives out of having both Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet.

"I'm enjoying the big deal," he said. "It's a nice situation to be in when you're comfortable starting any one at any juncture. Both are deserving of playing and both have played really well. It's a healthy situation and both want to play, but they respect the position they're in and they are doing whatever they can to stop the puck."

Quenneville figures eventually the situation will iron itself out.

"When I say that I mean maybe one starts playing better than the other," he said. "Who knows? Right now we're comfortable with the way it is. You look around the League, in a lot of places now teams are having some tough times with (goaltending) and it's nice when you don't have to worry about it. I have been in situations where it can be an issue."

Rookie report --
Columbus center Derick Brassard, who is becoming a regular in this weekly section, was named NHL Rookie of the Month for October, edging two other Central Division forwards.

Brassard had 9 points in 10 games to lead all rookie scorers. Chicago left wing Kris Versteeg and Blue Jackets right wing Jakub Voracek were finalists for the award.

Brassard fell ill the day before receiving the award and had to sit out Monday's game against the New York Islanders with flu-like symptoms. He returned Wednesday against Edmonton and scored another goal.

In more Blue Jackets' news, goaltender Steve Mason, called up from Syracuse of the American Hockey League this week, made his first NHL start on Wednesday and picked up his first win, a 5-4 decision over the Oilers. Mason will likely alternate with Fredrik Norrena, who was a late scratch Wednesday with a mild groin strain, until Pascal Leclaire returns from his ankle injury.

And the Columbus Dispatch reports that even though Nikita Filatov is eligible to go to the junior hockey ranks, he will not. Filatov will remain a pro and will stay with the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League until further notice.

Versteeg added 2 assists to his total in last Saturday's win against the Blue Jackets, giving him 2 goals and 8 assists through 12 games. His 10 points are fourth on the team and his 17:49 average ice time per game is the most among rookie forwards in the NHL.

Troy Brouwer has been a solid call-up for the Hawks. He has a goal and 3 assists in 6 games since being recalled from Rockford. Brouwer scored his first NHL goal 17:41 into the second period Monday night against Colorado. He is averaging 14:16 of ice time.

Blues defenseman Steve Wagner's ice time has dropped precipitously since playing a season-high 23:07 on Oct. 18 against Chicago. He played a season-low 11:43 last Saturday against Pittsburgh.

The bad news for the Blues is that forward T.J. Oshie suffered a high-ankle sprain last weekend and is out for a while. If Oshie's high-ankle sprain is anything like the one Sidney Crosby suffered last season, he's looking at close to 2 months on the shelf. Oshie was averaging 16:06 of ice time per game and had 2 goals and 2 assists.

The good news for the Blues is that defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has returned after missing 6 games with head and neck injuries. Pietrangelo could still be sent back to his junior team, the Niagara IceDogs, but he has 3 more games on his tryout left before the Blues must make a decision of whether he stays or goes.

Babcock knows Devils pain -- Mike Babcock can sort of empathize with the New Jersey Devils right now. He, too, once lost a starting goalie to a fluke injury.

The only difference: Martin Brodeur tore his biceps tendon trying to make a save. Jeff Little broke his leg while carrying pizza...or did he?

"I had my goalie break his leg the day before the playoffs when I was at Red Deer College," Babcock told the Detroit Free Press. "He told me he was out to get a pizza, went out to grab the pizza and slipped and broke his leg. Found out later that he went skiing on the weekend and broke his leg. How's that for a story?

"Jeff Little is his name. I think he's in the media profession now. That's a good spot for him, too, after that."

In all seriousness, Babcock doesn't expect the Devils to offer a much different look in tonight's game at Joe Louis Arena. He has great respect for Kevin Weekes, who is 1-1 so far as Brodeur's replacement.

"Weekes is no slouch," Babcock told the newspaper. "They'll buckle down and play hard."

This and that -- Congrats to Nashville coach Barry Trotz, who on Tuesday became just the 10th coach in NHL history to coach at least 750 games behind one team's bench. Trotz, who is the only coach in Predators' history, became the 31st coach in NHL history to reach the 750-game plateau. He's 330-314-107. ... According to reports in the Detroit media, both Johan Franzen (sprained left knee) and Chris Chelios (cracked fibula) were back on the ice this week. Their return dates are still unknown. The Red Wings play again tonight against New Jersey. ... Blues goalie Manny Legace made the trip out west this week and is close to returning from his hip/groin injury that he suffered Oct. 24. Legace returned to practice this week, but Chris Mason and Chris Holt served as the goalies in Anaheim and San Jose on Wednesday and Thursday. The Blues play at Los Angeles tonight.

He said it -- "I have really good memories from Pittsburgh. I had a great time there in that organization. They are awesome guys. Definitely before the game (Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena) it's going to be weird, but when the puck drops it's just going to be another game." -- Detroit Red Wings right wing Marian Hossa on what it will be like to play the Penguins.

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