Chicago Blackhawks: How Brandon Pirri Alters the Lineup on Upcoming Road Trip

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Chicago Blackhawks: How Brandon Pirri Alters the Lineup on Upcoming Road Trip
Associated Press
Brandon Pirri was called up Monday. It's time to use him on the second line.

The Chicago Blackhawks' recall of Brandon Pirri Monday afternoon, via the team's official website, is a welcome addition to a struggling lineup. The 'Hawks need a kick in the pants following three straight losses. Pirri may not put this team on his back, but using the young center might allow Chicago to do something they haven't done much lately.

That would be rolling four effective lines.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville iced a curious third line Sunday night in Chicago's loss to the Jets. Michal Handzus centered Kris Versteeg and defenseman Michael Kostka against Winnipeg in what turned out to be a limited appearance.

Quenneville wanted more from Bryan Bickell so the big wing was scratched Sunday. None of the players on the makeshift third line played more than Vertsteeg's 10:54. Neither Kostka or Handzus could even crack double digit minutes. In fact, Handzus' 8:14 and Kostka's 7:26 of ice time was the lowest of the Chicago skaters.

The Blackhawks fourth line of Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith has been Quenneville's checking line for most of this season. The demotion of Handzus to the potpourri line sent Andrew Shaw to the second line with Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane.

Pirri showed some promise with Kane earlier in the season. Pirri had six goals and five assists in 16 games, though he struggled on Chicago's circus trip back in November. He was sent to Rockford when Handzus returned from an injury.

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
Michal Handzus can contribute to the Blackhawks. Just not on the second line.

Since that return, Handzus has seven points (3 goals, 4 assists) in 28 games. He has not logged a point in his last 14 games.

I may not know if Pirri is going to be the answer on the second line for the time being, however, I have seen enough to know that Handzus is not. With the talent currently skating in Rockford, there is also no reason for any of the spare defensemen to ever skate a shift on a forward line.

I think Quenneville needs to put Bickell back into the lineup. If his name is already painted above the entrance to the doghouse, then call up Jeremy Morin or Joakim Nordstrom and continue sending whatever message Bickell should be receiving.

Such a move would require the 'Hawks to send a player (Kostka, perhaps?) to Rockford. As a result, that will probably have to wait until rosters expand later this spring.

Pirri is an offensive center and should be given the keys to the second line at least until the NHL breaks for the Olympics. This would allow for the following lines:

Patrick Sharp—Jonathan Toews—Marian Hossa

SaadPirri—Kane

Bickell—Shaw—Versteeg

Bollig—Kruger—Smith

Feel free to mix and match any way you like. Just start with Toews centering the top line and Pirri in the middle of the second.

Sit Bickell, move Shaw to wing and have Handzus on the third line. Move Kruger to the third line, and have Handzus center the fourth line. Put Toews and Kane together, and skate Pirri with Sharp and Hossa. Heck, you can even call up Morin, pencil him into the third line and then send him right back down.

Seriously, the constant in the shuffle is not to have Handzus in the top six. He just is not a second-line center, especially in the twilight of his career. He can still contribute to Chicago in the right role. I just don't think that role is between players like Kane and Saad.

Pirri may not be able to carry the Blackhawks, nor should he be expected to do so. However, using him allows Quenneville to skate four lines that don't include defensemen taking their first NHL shifts at wing, as was the case with Kostka. It also should create a third line that can skate a regular shift.

We may see Quenneville shake up his lines or just plug Pirri in someplace. The 'Hawks drop the puck in Calgary Tuesday night to kick off the road trip, so we should soon see what his plan is regarding Pirri, HandzusBickell and the rest of the lineup. 

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