The Brandons marshalling Blackhawks’ second line
BY MARK LAZERUS Staff Reporter October 28, 2013 9:39PM
The facts: 7 p.m., CSN, 720-AM.
Updated: October 28, 2013 11:35PM
The day after Brandon Saad turned 21, coach Joel Quenneville gave him the gift of yet another role.
Saad skated on the Blackhawks’ second line Monday against the Minnesota Wild, on the left side of Brandon Pirri and Patrick Kane. Patrick Sharp moved up to the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, while Marcus Kruger returned to his usual home at fourth-line center.
Saad started training camp at second-line center, an experiment Quenneville quickly abandoned. He started the season at third-line left wing, with a brief stint at right wing. Last week, he moved back to his old spot at top-line left wing. Now he finds himself in another new spot on the second line as Quenneville continues to tinker to find the right combination to jump-start the offense.
“It’s a little tough, changing and adjusting, but it’s just how it seems to be here,” Saad said. “He’s always jumbling the lines, mixing things up. And we’re looking to get more wins, so playing with new guys is part of it.”
Saad hasn’t skated much with Kane but was looking forward to the opportunity.
“He’s a great player, he’s creative,” Saad said. “I’m not sure what we have chemistry-wise because we haven’t skated too much, but I think we’ll be fine. It’ll be a process.”
The process didn’t take too long. Saad and Kane hooked up for a third-period goal as Saad made a spectacular behind-the-back feed on a two-on-one, setting up Kane for an easy goal.
It’s a big chance for Pirri, the AHL’s leading scorer a year ago, who has two goals in six games while playing mostly on the fourth line. The Hawks have targeted Pirri as their second-line center of the future, but he has to prove he’s defensively responsible enough to fill the long-existing hole in the lineup.
“We’re still looking for who’s going to be that guy,” Quenneville said. “It’s an opportunity for [Pirri] to hopefully grab that. We certain feel he can play there. At what point are you comfortable giving him that chance? We’re comfortable giving him that chance here, and I think he’ll do fine.”
With Michal Handzus out Monday (and Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators) with an upper-body injury that has kept him off the ice completely, this is the chance Pirri has been waiting for.
“It’s an opportunity; I don’t know if there’s pressure,” he said. “It’s a team game, and everybody’s got to do their part. I’m excited for this opportunity, and we’ll see how things go.”
Quenneville wouldn’t confirm whether Nikolai Khabibulin, who struggled Thursday in a 6-5 overtime road loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning, will play against the Senators or if Corey Crawford would get back-to-back starts. Michal Rozsival, Ben Smith and Handzus were the scratches.