Pirri sparkles, Emery fades in Hawks loss

CHICAGO -- They stood near each other talking to the media in the locker room after the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 preseason loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night. But there might soon be plenty of distance between them.

The arrow is decidedly pointing up for Blackhawks forward prospect Brandon Pirri after his second, two-goal game of the exhibition season. That’s not the case for goalie Ray Emery who’s tryout with the team might be on thin ice.

Emery gave up three goals on 18 shots including one after a bad turnover when coming out of his net. He failed to make the big save in what turned out to be a close game.

“It hasn’t gone the way I wanted to, especially in games,” Emery said of training camp. “I feel solid on the ice but just some funny plays. I’m excited my body feels good and would really like the opportunity to play here.”

One of those funny plays came on a Hawks power play in the second period. Emery came way out of his net to play the puck, but put it on the Pens’ Matt Cooke’s stick at center ice. Cooke scored from near the red face-off line. It was an embarrassing goal that might be looked at as a fluke in different circumstances.

“I have to rip it a bit harder and find an open guy,” Emery said.

Emery just hasn’t looked as sharp as his camp foe, Alexander Salak. And a case could be made the skaters in front of him haven’t helped. But that was the same case people made for Marty Turco before Emery and even Cristobal Huet before Turco. At some point the puck has to be stopped and a goalie has to bail out his teammates.

“I’ll leave it up to them,” Emery said of the goalie competition. “I bring certain things. I bring some experience. I think they kind of know what to expect from me in there. I expect to get better and better as the year goes on.”

Meanwhile, Pirri has gotten better as camp has gone on. Lest you think he’s a camp surprise, the Hawks have been liking Pirri for quite some time. His name comes up when they discuss depth but rarely was it heard in regards to breaking camp with the team.

“I’m just trying to leave everything out there,” the 59th pick in the 2009 draft said. “I’m playing at the highest level out there. I’m just having fun.”

Pirri joked he’d play fourth line center or back-up goalie to make the team, he might not need to be that desperate. With the injuries to Ben Smith and Viktor Stalberg and a quiet camp from Marcus Kruger, Pirri’s chances of sticking have increased immeasurably.

“We didn’t mind [Brandon Pirri’s] game, I think offensively he had some real nice looks all alone, as well as his production there,” Quenneville said. “Pirri has got some skill, he’s been a producer his whole life, he sees plays, I think he’s patient in his game, and has nice finish around the net, it’s been a nice camp for him.”

Quenneville wouldn’t admit Emery was out as backup, in fact he might see more action before a decision is made.

“Emery was OK, the shorthanded goal was a tough one to give up,” Quenneville said. “We’ll see [on the goaltending], we’re still undetermined.”

Quenneville said Corey Crawford had a “maintenance day” Friday and was unsure if he would start Sunday’s game in Washington. It would open the door for another split game between Emery and Salak, if the Hawks need to see more.

The problem for Emery is Quenneville sees goalies by the numbers. Salak’s 1.94 goals against average and .929 save percentage stand out compared to Emery’s 4.54 and .813. It might be enough to make the decision no matter any extenuating circumstances.

“I gave it my all,” Emery said. “We’ll see.”


• Joel Quenneville had as much praise for Brandon Saad as he did for Pirri who scored twice.

“Saad does a lot of good things, he’s played a lot of games here, I still think he does a lot of good things, good patience, good recognition, we’ve been pleased with him,” Quenneville said.

Expect Saad to be signed to an entry level contract and break camp with the Hawks.

Dave Bolland sat out another day of practice Friday morning but Quenneville said his upper body injury wasn’t serious.

• Ben Smith is the “same” according to Quenneville as he recovers from the blow to his head he took in Wednesday’s game against Detroit.