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All this week, Madhouse Enforcer will be taking a look at the key matchups to watch for when the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins tangle at Soldier Field as the final stop in the NHL’s Stadium Series on Saturday.
Today’s matchup is Joel Quenneville vs. Dan Bylsma.
The head coaches of the Blackhawks and Penguins have plenty in common aside from their flair for putting together high powered offenses. Bylsma was brought on by the Penguins midseason back in the 2008-09 campaign, and he turned his team around and they won the Stanley Cup that year in an epic series over the Detroit Red Wings.
It was that same Red Wings squad that knocked off the Quenneville coached Blackhawks, ending his first year with the team after he was hired four games into the campaign following Denis Savard’s ouster as coach. The very next season, Quenneville took his team to the Cup Final, where they knocked off the Philadelphia Flyers and ended a 49-year Stanley Cup drought in the city.
Aside from both taking over teams in midseason and finding quick success with young and exciting players, both Bylsma and Quenneville have dealt with their fair share of adversity over the years.
Whether it was Quenneville weathering the storm of a massive roster turnover in 2010-11, or watching his team lose nine consecutive games in the 2011-12 campaign as more fans began to call for his head, or Bylsma overcoming a slew of injuries during his tenure in Pittsburgh (including the long concussion saga of Sidney Crosby), both coaches know how to coach on the hot seat, and they have largely passed with flying colors.
In more current times, both coaches have their teams well-poised for deep playoff runs. The Blackhawks, largely intact from the 2013 squad that won the Cup, have an explosive offense and a lot of talent on their blue line. The Penguins have an equally potent scoring attack and have been getting some great performances out of their goaltenders so far this season.
Both teams will come into Soldier Field looking for a big victory to kickstart the post-Olympic portion of their schedules, but which coach will have the edge behind the bench? Both have participated in outdoor games in the past, with the Penguins playing in two Winter Classics (winning a shootout in Buffalo and losing to the Capitals in Pittsburgh), and the Blackhawks lost their Winter Classic at Wrigley Field to the Red Wings, so neither is going to be surprised by what the elements have in store for their teams.
That being said, the real question will be which strategy will end up working out better in the cold at Soldier Field. The Blackhawks are capable of playing a game revolving around tons of shots and tons of net traffic, but at times they settle for slinging passes around the perimeter of the ice and then taking only open looks at the net. The Penguins do have the same problem, but it will be interesting to see which team adapts more quickly to the outdoor environment.
If pressed for a decision between the two, one would have to go with Quenneville. His teams historically show more defensive discipline than the Penguins do, and Quenneville also isn’t afraid to tinker with his lineups mid-game if necessary, so his adaptability should be a big asset going into this one.