By Brad Gardner
The Blackhawks took the ice Friday night for their second meeting of the preseason with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens entered play in Chicago with a 4-0 record in the preseason having defended their home ice in the first meeting between the two teams, a 4-1 victory at the Consol Energy Center on September 22.
Special teams play was the story early on. Pittsburgh’s first goal came from former-Hawk Steve Sullivan on the power play just five seconds into the man advantage. Brandon Pirri had shot the puck over the glass, giving the Pens the extra man. The Pens controlled the ensuing faceoff and Kris Letang’s crossing pass found Steve Sullivan with time at the top of the left circle. Ray Emery didn’t stand much chance with Tyler Kennedy parked in front of the net.
Pittsburgh’s second goal, scored by Matt Cooke, came while the team was down a man. The penalty kill applied constant pressure while shorthanded throughout the game, but it was more of a fluke play that resulted in the goal. Ray Emery skated way out of his crease to play a loose puck, sending it off the boards and into the neutral zone. Cooke was the first one there and fired a slap shot from center ice that skipped over Emery’s stick and through a rather feeble attempt to block the shot from Brent Seabrook.
The Penguins went up 3-0 in the middle of the second period when Kris Letang’s centering pass was jabbed by Mark Letestu and redirected to the goal mouth. Joe Vitale beat Steve Montador to the loose puck for his first goal of the preseason.
The Blackhawks, on the other hand, failed to convert on their first three power plays until Brandon Pirri tapped in Chicago’s first goal of the game during the team’s fourth power play opportunity. Fellow-rookie Brandon Saad advanced the puck and opened up room for Rostislav Olesz to skate the puck behind the net for a wrap-around attempt. His shot slid through the crease and Pirri tapped it in from the blue paint with 42 seconds left on the clock in the period two, pulling the Hawks within two goals.
Pirri scored his second goal of the contest 10:11 into the third period to make it a one-goal game. Bryan Bickell and Olesz controlled the puck on the forecheck and Bickell sent a backhand pass to a wide open Brandon Pirri in front of the net. He patiently carried the puck on his backhand and was able to sneak his shot through Brent Johnson on the glove side.
Chicago controlled play for much of the final frame, outshooting Pittsburgh 19 to 6. Brent Johnson continued to loom large in goal and held onto the one-goal lead until Evgeni Malkin sealed the win with an empty-net goal with 42 seconds remaining.
–Injury notes: Friday’s practice included an appearance from Patrick Sharp, his first time skating without an appendix. In addition to the injuries suffered by Ben Smith and Viktor Stalberg against Detroit on Wednesday, center Dave Bolland also came away dinged up against the Wings. Bolland did not dress against Pittsburgh, but he is not expected to be out long.
–The Penguins brought more offensive firepower up front than the first game between these two teams. Former-Hawk Steve Sullivan suited up in his first game of the preseason and first game as a Penguin. He skated alongside Evgeni Malkin who is returning from knee surgery and an injury-shortened season.
–Brandon Pirri scored his third and fourth goals of the preseason. He had several other excellent opportunities, the first two coming on breakaways in which his backhand attempts were snuffed out by Brent Johnson. While Marcus Kruger was initially given the opportunity to skate in Bolland’s spot at third line center, Pirri completely stole the show and finished the game between Bickell and Olesz. That said, Pirri was also called for both the penalties that led to Pittsburgh’s power play tallies.
–Ray Emery entered Friday’s game looking to make one last good impression in the battle for the back-up goaltender spot. Chicago has to sign Emery to a pro contract by Saturday if they want to keep him on the roster. The veteran battled and made several big saves, including a flashy glove save on a Jordan Staal shorthanded attempt shortly before the Cooke goal. He had a couple tough bounces and not a lot of help from the defense in front of him. We’ll find out tomorrow if he did enough to solidy his spot with the club.
–The Blackhawks outshot Pittsburgh 37-19 for the game, including a 19-6 shot disparity in the third period. With his team down 3-1, coach Joel Quenneville rolled out new lines in the final frame. The forward group responded, especially the line of Brunette-Toews-Frolik that had a couple strong shifts in the third.
–The special teams struggled, with the Hawks going 1-6 on the power play with 11 shots on net. The top PP unit of Brunette-Toews-Kane seemed to spend whole minutes in the zone with the extra man, but didn’t come away with anything to show for it. The second unit of Saad-Pirri-Hossa had several chances of their own. The penalty kill allowed two goals in three opportunities, although that total does include Malkin’s empty-net goal at the end.