In some of the least shocking news of this young NHL season, Brandon Pirri has been sent back to the Rockford IceHogs by the Blackhawks. Michael Kostka is on a conditioning assignment there as well. Jeremy Morin and Joakim Nordstrom have been recalled to the Blackhawks as they get ready to take on the Minnesota Wild on Thursday evening.
While Pirri has had his share of struggles in the last few games, we must remember that he is a rookie. The line blender has been set to high speed since Michal Handzus came off of injured reserve. Pirri saw his ice time go from nearly 17 minutes a game to under 10 minutes recently. He was removed from the power play where he was seeing nice time and frankly, looked effective.
According to multiple reports from beat writers, Coach Joel Quenneville has no concerns with Pirri’s offensive game but wants his defensive game to improve. Apparently, this is the reason he was demoted to Rockford. This move is puzzling because obviously, rookies make mistakes and need time to learn and adjust their game. We make so much of a line developing chemistry, which the second line was doing quite nicely, and then blast the players when that chemistry does not immediately form after the lines have been completely rearranged.
I would like to have seen Pirri get more time on the second line as I think that combination was working very well. If Pirri is going to be put on a different line, then allow some time for that new line to work. The fact is that he was often on multiple lines during each game. Obviously, this is Quenneville’s preferred coaching method so there is an argument to be made that Pirri needs to thrive in this environment or find himself back on the IceHogs roster.
Pirri’s possession numbers prior to his demotion were relatively strong particularly given that he was playing on the best possession team in the league. It is safe to assume that his puck possession ability is not what gives the Blackhawks pause. More likely, Pirri’s lackluster performance at the faceoff dot has something to do with Quenneville’s frustration. Pirri was not used on the penalty kill during his time up with the big club further illustrating the lack of confidence in his defensive game. Hopefully, this demotion to the AHL will not be long term and Pirri will put the effort into improving his defensive game. Obviously, we all hope he is capable of doing so.
The main reason behind the moves made today is likely nothing really to do with what Pirri can or cannot do on the ice and more about the huge number of goals being given up by the Blackhawks. While the Blackhawks can score a ton of goals, the Goals Against problem lurks in the shadows waiting to derail what should be a successful season. If you recall, last season as we neared the final regular season games, we begged that the Blackhawks would stay under the 100 Goals Against mark as a matter of pride. That was over an impressive and shortened 48 game regular season. Currently, the Blackhawks have played 29 games and have given up 78 goals.
The more defensively minded Nordstrom may be helpful in this regard but the move to bring up Morin is perplexing. His zone starts have been very sheltered and his TOI has been very low. Perhaps Quenneville has plans to give him more time and test out his defensive ability but on its surface, this move seems less defensively minded than Pirri’s demotion suggests. Wait and see shall be our task as we await the match up with the Wild, another of the league’s top possession teams.