The day after Brandon Saad turned 21, Joel Quenneville gave him the gift of yet another role.
Saad will skate on the Blackhawks’ second line tonight against the Minnesota Wild, on the left side of Brandon Pirri and Patrick Kane. Patrick Sharp moves up to the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, while Marcus Kruger returns to his usual home at fourth-line center.
Saad started training camp at second-line center, an experiment Quenneville quickly abandoned. He started the season at third-line left wing, with a brief stint at right wing. Last week, he moved back to his old spot at top-line left wing. Now, he finds himself in yet another new spot on the second line as Quenneville continues to tinker to find the right combination to jumpstart the Hawks offense.
“It’s a little tough changing and adjusting, but it’s just how it seems to be here,” Saad said. “He’s always jumbling the lines, mixing things up. And we’re looking to get more wins here, so playing with new guys is part of it.”
Saad hasn’t skated much with Kane, but is looking forward to the opportunity.
“He’s a great player, he’s creative,” Saad said. “I’m not sure what we have chemistry-wise, because we haven’t skated too much, but I think we’ll be fine. It’ll be a process.”
It’s a big chance for Pirri, the AHL’s leading scorer a year ago, who has two goals in six games this season while playing mostly on the fourth line. The Hawks have targeted Pirri as their second-line center of the future, but he has to prove he’s defensively responsible enough to fill the long-existing hole in the Hawks lineup.
“We’re still looking for who’s going to be that guy,” Quenneville said. “It’s an opportunity for Brandon to hopefully grab that. We certain feel he can play there. At what point are you comfortable giving him that chance? We’re comfortable giving him that chance here, and I think he’ll do fine.”
With Michal Handzus out again tonight (and Tuesday vs. Ottawa) with an upper-body injury that has kept him off the ice completely, this is the chance Pirri has been waiting for.
“It’s an opportunity; I don’t know if there’s pressure,” he said. “It’s a team game and everybody’s got to do that part. I’m excited for this opportunity and we’ll see how things go. Every game’s an audition. There’s a lot of depth in this organization and everyone wants to be here. If you’re not showing up every game and playing consistently, then you’re not going to be playing.”
Corey Crawford will start in goal for the Hawks. Quenneville wouldn’t say if Nikolai Khabibulin — coming off a poor game in Tampa Bay — would get the start Tuesday against the Senators.