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Pirri’s play for Knights making McPhee’s decision tougher by the goal

It’s always best to have options in sports, always a desired position to own when difficult roster decisions must be made due to an abundance of capable choices.

Such is life for really good teams.

Which brings us to the conundrum that is Brandon Pirri and the Golden Knights.

Fireworks lit up the sky at midnight on New Year’s Eve and another holiday season passed and Pirri has scored again, the latter becoming as expected an occurrence as Carnell Johnson strolling onto the ice when it’s time for the national anthem.

“It seems like (Pirri) is scoring every game for us,” said Knights coach Gerard Gallant.


Pirri was the one who finally solved the Great Jack Campbell (more on him later) Tuesday night, his power-play goal in the third period breaking a scoreless tie in which the Knights ultimately earned a 2-0 victory against the Kings before an announced gathering of 18,319 at T-Mobile Arena.

If you are one to follow the Knights across social media, you know well Pirri’s story, a 27-year-old forward who was leading the American Hockey League in scoring when recalled from the Chicago Wolves on Dec. 19, who was inserted onto the second line as Max Pacioretty went to injured reserve, who now has six goals in seven games, whose long-term tenure in Las Vegas remains as unknown as when he first came up.

Here’s why: Should he play 10 games with the Knights and then be sent back to the AHL, Pirri would have to clear waivers and, given his offensive numbers in such a small window, the odds of that happening compare to Gallant sharing at his next news conference detailed reports of each player’s medical history.

Pacioretty skated with the team Tuesday morning and at least appears close to returning, meaning the team could send Pirri back to the Wolves before he hits that 10-game mark and not risk losing him.

But in a game where scoring is, well, sort of incredibly important, can you really not find a place for this hot a hand?

Maybe, if the book on Pirri is correct.

Which is this: He’s a sniper and a good one. He’s a top-six forward. He’s not a guy who can consistently grind like third-liners, not a player who could fit into a situation like when the Knights beat Colorado 2-1 and forwards Oscar Lindberg, Cody Eakin and Ryan Carpenter were specifically used to shut down the league’s best line.

Gallant said Tuesday that Pirri has improved defensively, that he’s more able to play a 200-foot game. But when defense was needed late to keep the Kings off the scoreboard, it was Pierre Edouard-Bellemare joining the second line in place of Pirri.

This is a tough one for general manager George McPhee. You would think Lindberg or Carpenter would be claimed off waivers if risked. You could send Pirri down now and take a moment before deciding whether or not to bring him back full time. He’s beyond a bargain at $650,000, especially if his scoring continued.

But this isn’t as easy as some (see social media) believe. You don’t keep him up at all costs. It has to make sense for more than just his stellar play thus far. One move always creates another.

Making decision tough

“I can’t worry about what I can’t control,” said Pirri, who has played for four other NHL teams and whose career has been defined by this sort of uncertainty. “When I was 19, 20 years old, going up and down, it was more stressful. But now, I’m, 27 and have a wife and kid. If you can’t enjoy the journey, your dream wasn’t to play in the NHL. For a kid from Toronto, this was probably my dream since I was 2.

“I just have to do my best to make the decision hard on management. Work hard and be consistent. That’s what every NHL team wants, a guy who does it on a night-to-night basis.”

He did it again Tuesday, beating Campbell for a 1-0 lead.

Campbell is the guy with 21 career NHL games but looks more like Patrick Roy when facing the Knights, having now stopped 87 shots in two games here, where he won his first career game last February.

He was going along that way again before Pirri took aim.

Seven games, six goals, one huge and difficult decision for McPhee.

Hey, it’s the price of being really good.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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