Call-up Pirri to center second line

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
3:30
PM CT
By Ryan Dittrick
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CALGARY, Alberta -- Brandon Pirri understands the immeasurable value of his latest call to the big club, but he isn't wasting time and energy looking too far ahead this time around.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Pirri
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhBrandon Pirri has six goals and five assists in 24 games with the Hawks this season.
"Maybe in past years I would have been nervous about this kind of opportunity this late in the season, but this is my fourth year (of professional hockey). I know these guys well and they've been good to me throughout this whole situation," Pirri said.

"It's all excitement right now."

Pirri will center the second line alongside Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg as the Blackhawks kick off a six-game Pacific Division road trip on Tuesday night against the Calgary Flames.

The rest of the forward lines are as follows: Patrick SharpJonathan ToewsMarian Hossa; Bryan BickellAndrew Shaw - Brandon Saad; Brandon BolligMarcus KrugerBen Smith.

Michal Handzus is the odd-man out up front.

On defense, Michael Kostka and Sheldon Brookbank will be scratched, resulting in the following pairings: Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook; Niklas HjalmarssonJohnny Oduya; Nick LeddyMichal Rozsival.

"It's another opportunity, and that's all I can ask," Pirri said. "I got a taste of it earlier this season and it was disappointing to be sent down, but I'm ready to make the most of it this time around."

Pirri, the 59th pick in the 2009 NHL draft, emerged as a key contributor for the Blackhawks earlier on this season. The 22-year-old recorded six goals and 11 points in 16 games, but was then held pointless in the next eight before being reassigned to Rockford on Dec. 4.

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville was pleased with Pirri's offensive contributions, but didn't believe his defensive game was where it needed to be at this level.

"Everyone says they need to become a 200-foot player in this league," Pirri said. "That's true, there's no doubt about that. But how do you get there? There are specifics in the game you need to work on to get to that point. For me, the biggest thing was consistency. Some games the puck was following me around, and there were others when I didn't get a single touch.

"That's when you need to take a step back, reevaluate and slow things down a little bit."

"He made inroads last time he was up here," Quenneville added. "He progressed and was aware of his responsibilities, and we expect him to be even better now."

While with the IceHogs, Pirri suffered a lower-body injury in late December and was shelved for nearly a month. He returned to the lineup late last week, scoring once and adding two assists in a three-in-three set with the Milwaukee Admirals.

Pirri has four goals and 13 points in 16 AHL games this season, with 13 of those contests having come on his latest trip down to the minors.

"I'm excited to be back," he said. "Everyone knows what (Kane) can do, but I can't force things. He's a talented player, he creates a lot of attention and you obviously want to get him the puck, but you can't stray from the game plan.

"I think I may have tried to do that a little too much last time."

Back where it all began: Scotiabank Saddledome will always hold a special place in Antti Raanta's heart. Back on Nov. 27, he made 20 saves to record his first NHL win, 3-2 over the Calgary Flames.

"That was a special night for me and my career," Raanta said. "The entire day leading up to the game, I was thinking way too much about the game and all the things that could go wrong.

"Of course, once I got a couple shots, I was over it and could just concentrate on my game. I'll never forget that night."

In 18 games this season, the 24-year-old has gone 12-2-3, with a .910 save percentage and 2.24 goals-against average.

Reto Berra is expected to start for the Flames.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Patrick Sharp
PTS GOALS AST +/-
78 34 44 13
OTHER LEADERS
GoalsP. Sharp 34
AssistsD. Keith 55
+/-M. Hossa 28
GAAC. Crawford 2.26