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Pirri's defense leading to more ice time

11/7/2013

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Pirri is slowly earning coach Joel Quenneville’s trust.

The goal Pirri scored against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday has nothing to do with that either. Pirri’s offensive upside is why he’s been given a chance as the Blackhawks’ second-line center. They expect him to score and create. It’s his defense that will determine whether he stays there.

Quenneville liked enough of that defensive side Wednesday that he gave Pirri a season-high 16:10 of ice time. It was no coincidence that Wednesday also marked the second consecutive game the Blackhawks had more shots-for than shots-against when Pirri was on the ice in 5-on-5 situations.

The Blackhawks had a plus-1 Corsi (shots on net, missed and blocked) with Pirri on the ice against the Jets and a plus-3 against the Calgary Flames on Sunday. Pirri’s line hasn’t been dominating the puck, but it was better the last two games than when he had a minus-9 Corsi against the Jets on Saturday and a minus-6 Corsi against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 29.

“He’s been fine,” Quenneville said prior to Wednesday’s game. “Whether you’re thinking that his minutes are high-end minutes, eventually you earn more minutes on your overall play. The opportunity with him is he’s growing in that area. We’re looking to see how he plays without the puck in our end, how he’s playing down low. We’re looking for progress there. I think we’re seeing a little bit of it. I think his ice time will probably be more enhanced as we get more comfortable with him.”

Pirri is aware of where he has to be more consistent. He’s tried not to overanalyze his minutes and just focus on improving.

“I just try to make the most of whatever I have, whatever opportunities are there,” Pirri said prior to Saturday’s game. “It’s obviously a learning experience. I’m getting used to it and getting better day by day.”

Quenneville thought Pirri was no different than most prospects making the jump to the NHL.

“I just think young guys, defensively, that’s why they learn the game down in the American League level to adapt a guy’s strength and the awareness positionally of where to be and learn some of the things in the puck areas that can give you a better chance of getting it back and controlling it a little bit more,” Quenneville said. ‘It’s all part of a young guy adapting to the NHL level. Offensively, we think he’s got all the right instincts. That’s what we’re looking for -- the improvement on the defensive side.”