Chicago closes preseason with lots of personnel decisions left to make

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Chicago heads into their final preseason game this afternoon against the Washington Capitals and while most teams will have their lineups figured out for the most part, the Blackhawks have a bit more work to get done.

In goal they’ve got a competition going on between Ray Emery and Alexander Salak to see who ends up being the backup goalie behind Corey Crawford. Emery is the wily veteran with the wonky hip that he’s continuing to come back from while Salak is the youngster with swagger and attitude looking to land his first NHL job.

Salak’s numbers are a little better than Emery’s and while Emery does have a bit of an embarrassing goal allowed in his last game against Pittsburgh, Tracey Myers of CSNChicago.com believes that Emery’s experience gives him the edge.

The Blackhawks will probably still go with Emery, allowing Salak to hone his skills in Rockford. They like Emery’s veteran status and NHL experience. And the game results could still come. But remember, Blackhawks: the last two guys who started the season as backups, Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford, didn’t have so much NHL experience. They didn’t turn out so bad, either.

Elsewhere on the ice, Chicago is taking a look at Patrick Kane playing center on the second line and while he’s coming back from wrist surgery, he’s showing a different level of play up the middle. Kane’s ability to make plays as well as score goals and wheel around defenders gives him a special something else to his game.

Then there’s what they’ll do about their depth forward spots. We talked the other day about how 2011 second round pick Brandon Saad is fighting his way into the opening night lineup thanks to injuries to Ben Smith and Viktor Stalberg, but there’s another young Brandon making a case for himself as well.

2009 second round pick Brandon Pirri is also making noise late into training camp this year and his offensive skills are showing that the slick skating kid out of Rensselaer in the NCAA is growing into a potential offensive threat. Pirri had two goals and an assist against Detroit and Ty Conklin last Sunday and on Friday night against Pittsburgh he added another two goals beating Brent Johnson in a 3-2 loss to the Penguins. While neither Pirri nor Saad are going to get time on the Blackhawks’ top two lines, if they can add that sort of production and be defensively responsible on the third or fourth lines, the Hawks will welcome it with Stalberg and Smith out of action.

Myers finds out from Quenneville that he’s taking notice of both Brandons.

“We didn’t mind (Pirri’s) game. Offensively, he had a couple real nice looks all alone as well as his production there. He’s got some skill, he’s been a producer his whole life and 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.”

Saad, who has played in every preseason game, had a secondary assist on Pirri’s first goal on Friday.

“He does a lot of good things,” Quenneville said of Saad. “He’s played a lot of games here and we still think he does a lot of good things.”

With these decisions all hanging in the balance heading into today’s game, the make up of the Blackhawks will be curious to see when it comes to opening night against Dallas this week.

Devils sign d-man Michael Kapla

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The New Jersey Devils have signed UMass-Lowell defenseman Michael Kapla to a two-year, entry-level contract.

Kapla, 22, had three goals and 27 assists in 41 games this season. He’ll report to the Devils and likely burn the first year of his ELC by making his NHL debut sometime very soon.

The Devils host the Winning Jets tonight. They’re in Brooklyn Friday to play the Islanders.

Kapla spent four years in college. Per the Devils’ press release, he “most recently captained the River Hawks to the 2017 Hockey East Championship. He also received Hockey East All-Tournament Team honors and was named to the Hockey East Second All-Star Team.”

 

Report: Penn State sophomore Pedrie leaves school, signs with Rangers

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For the second straight day, the Rangers have landed an undrafted college free agent.

Vince Pedrie, a sophomore blueliner that just wrapped his sophomore campaign at Penn State, has reportedly agreed to terms with the Rangers on an entry-level deal, per the Collegian.

Citing a post from Pedrie’s Facebook account confirming the move, the Collegian reports the 23-year-old is the youngest Nittany Lion in program history to leave the team for the professional ranks.

It comes after Pedrie emerged as a “dominant offensive force” for the club last season, racking up 30 points in 39 games while helping Penn State qualify for its first NCAA championship appearance.

As mentioned above, this is the second intriguing prospect to join the Blueshirts in as many days. On Monday, University of Minnesota senior Vinni Lettieri agreed to join the team after an impressive four-year career with the Gophers.

Hjalmarsson says ‘Hawks are ‘too comfortable’ after rough trip through Florida

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When most people take trips to Florida, it’s to get away from the stress and struggle of everyday life. But it’s safe to say that this edition of the Chicago Blackhawks won’t want to remember their visit to the Sunshine State.

The ‘Hawks dropped an embarrassing 7-0 decision to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night before blowing a 4-1 lead in last night’s game against the Bolts (they eventually lost 5-4 in OT).

They still have a comfortable lead atop the Central Division (eight points up on the struggling Wild), but they aren’t satisfied with their play.

“It’s getting close to the end here and we’re getting a little bit too comfortable maybe,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said, per the Chicago Tribune. “As soon as you do that, you’re going to lose games … At the same time I’m glad that we were playing like this before the playoffs so we can make some adjustments.

“Eighty-two games is a long season. It’s a mental grind more than anything. As soon as you’re not there 100 percent, it’s going to show in the scoring.”

As Hjalmarsson said, six games is still enough time to figure things out for Chicago. They just won’t have the luxury of facing easy opponents when they do try to sort out their struggles.

They’ll play the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Wednesday before returning home to play Columbus and Boston. They’ll then head back on the road to close out the season in Denver, Anaheim and Los Angeles.

PHT Morning Skate: This season’s top five breakout performers

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Jake Allen wore a special U.S. Navy tribute mask during last night’s game against the Coyotes. It’s really a gorgeous mask. “The blue and yellow complements our colors well, and it’s a great tribute to the Blue Angel pilots who have the honor of flying and performing across the country.” (NHL.com/Blues)

–With every NHL season, there are surprises and disappointments. Rather than focus on the negatives, The Hockey News breaks down the top five breakout seasons in 2016-17. At the top of the list is Panthers forward Jonathan Marchesault, who is shockingly closing in on a 30-goal season. Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson and Boston’s David Pastrnak have also made names for themselves. (The Hockey News)

–It’s no secret that NHLers are forced to travel a lot, but each team makes the most of their road trips in different ways. For example, Kevin Shattenkirk and the Capitals enjoy fine dining when they’re away from home.  “It’s so easy to go to the top names or the ones that you hear of all the time, but when you go to a lot of these cities, the food scenes everywhere now are really starting to improve. A lot of my friends naturally are foodies. They bring me to some of their places. Even just a simple Google, most of the times, the first two things that come up are Yelp or TripAdvisor, and I usually go a couple down and look at a local newspaper, if they have the best spots to eat in 2017. I like to focus on those.” (Washington Post)

–The Tampa Bay Lightning found themselves down 4-1 in lasts night’s game against Chicago, but they were able to battle back and win in a thrilling overtime period. You can check out the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Tonight will mark the first time that Jordie and Jamie Benn play against each other since the trade that saw the older Benn head to Montreal. The Canadiens took the opportunity to ask their Benn some questions about what it was like growing up with his brother. Here’s a sample question: “Of the two of you, which one is Peyton and who is Eli?” (NHL.com/Canadiens)

–This year’s rookie class with Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Zach Werenski, Mitch Marner and Matt Murray is one of the best in recent memory, but which other freshmen classes stand out? BarDown takes a look at the top five rookie classes since 2000. (BarDown)

–Capitals forward Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky had some fun during picture day. The two players showed up to the rink with some pretty poofy hair. There’s no point in me trying to explain it when you can see the pictures for yourself. (NHL.com)