ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Many thought Blackhawks center Brandon Pirri would start the season on the team's second line. After leading the American Hockey League in scoring last season with 22 goals and 75 points, Pirri would seem to be a natural fit between Brandon Saad and either Patrick Kane or Marian Hossa, giving the Hawks another potent line with the potential to score a lot of points.
With veteran Michal Handzus coming off a reliable season on the second line last year to earn and keep the trust of Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, Pirri's role hasn't been clear. Since being called up from Rockford, Pirri has spent much of his time on the fourth line, only moonlighting with the second line, often in the third period of games.
But with Handzus out with an upper-body injury Pirri's chance to earn the second line center's job seems to have arrived. He will start Monday’s rematch with the Minnesota Wild between Saad and Kane on the Hawks' second unit. And with Handzus out tonight as well as Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators, Pirri could be auditioning to make his promotion permanent.
"[Handzus] did a great job for us last year and this year I don't think he's been at that level," Quenneville said. "We're still looking for someone to be that guy and this is an opportunity for Brandon to hopefully grab that. We certainly think he can play there, but at what point are you comfortable giving him that chance? I think we're comfortable giving him that chance here and I think he'll do fine."
Pirri, who's contributed two goals and an assist in six games playing mostly on the Hawks' fourth line, views this as a chance to show the organization exactly what he can do.
"Every game is an audition," Pirri said. "The depth in this organization, everybody wants to be here. If you're not playing consistent or showing up every game, you're not going to be playing."
Pirri said he understands his role with the second line, something that should serve him well if he's able to execute it properly.
"Play hard, bring that energy, that work ethic, go get pucks for guys like Kaner and Saad [so they] can do their thing," Pirri said.
Quenneville said the Blackhawks will look very similar Monday to how they did in Saturday's third period, with the snake-bitten Patrick Sharp playing left wing on the team's top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Bryan Bickell and Jeremy Morin will flank Andrew Shaw on the third line and Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Brad Mills will make up the fourth line.
Corey Crawford will get the start in net 48 hours after allowing a season-high five goals in Saturday's 5-3 loss.