Pirri goes 20-2, earns ‘Doc Halladay’ nickname


Brandon Pirri. (CP/Frank Gunn)

TORONTO — Whatever you do, Brandon Pirri, do not pass the puck.

For you, sir, are on track to secure hockey’s most lopsided offensive statistical line ever.

After posting two goals in Thursday’s 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs the Florida Panthers’ forward now has 20 goals and just two assists this season — and only one of those is a primary helper.

Considering the NHL’s pinata-like generosity when it comes to doling out secondary assists and the odds of even a shoot-first player having at least a handful of his pucks tipped in or his rebounds slammed across by a teammate, this is a rarity on par with Avalanche centre Ryan O’Reilly’s run at zero penalties minutes last season (not snapped until his 72nd game).

How in the name of Brett Hull does a guy score 20 goals and get just two assists, Brandon?

“I don’t know,” the Toronto native says in the visitors’ Air Canada Centre dressing room, smiling a lot and laughing a little after the win. “My linemates, [Vincent] Trochek and Jimmy [Hayes], have done just an incredible job of setting me up, and I’ve just been trying to shoot everything.”

And an impressive 15.6 per cent of everything is finding the back of the net, giving the 23-year-old Pirri the most efficient shot on the team.

With a 20-2 stat line, the dressing room joke is that Pirri is gunning for the 2015 Cy Young.

“The guys have started calling me Doc Halladay,” he admits. Yet even Halladay (22-7) had seven notches in the right column when he won his first Cy Young in 2003.

Just how rare is it for a player with 41 games under his belt to have 10 times as many goals as assists?

Eleven goaltenders have as many assists as Pirri this season, including Ilya Bryzgalov, who only got six starts. And five of those goalies have more assists than Pirri. Of all NHLers this season, only Rocket Richard Trophy lock Alex Ovechkin has at least 18 more goals than assists — but he still has 26 assists.

You’d have to look all the way back to the 1920s (and CBS Sports did) to find anything close to Pirri’s numbers. Good ol’ Alfred “Pit” Lepine scored 16 goals and just one assist for the 1927-28 Montreal Canadiens.

I ask Pirri if he’s had a similar goals-to-assists ratio at any point in his hockey life, which is polite code for, “Are you a puck hog?”

“Honestly, I led my AHL team in assists,” says Pirri, baffled. In his final full season as a Rockford IceHog, Pirri notched 53 assists to 22 goals, and prior to his NHL career, he has never had more goals than assists — even in junior. “I consider myself a play-maker, really.”

When pressed, he does say that when recovering from an injury earlier this season, he spent more time with the coaching staff working on his game, including that quick-release shot that earned him another nickname from his mates — Wesley Snipes. And the natural centre’s move to the wing has placed a premium on finishing plays.

Pirri has averaged a goal per game over the Panthers’ last seven and has scored more goals in his last 22 than any player in the NHL.

So when Toronto’s Richard Panik flipped Pirri’s stick into the sixth row during the third period — and it was caught like by a kid, the way a young baseball fan might snag a Halladay foul-off — the broadcast worried that Pirri might want the twig back. There’s magic in that thing.

No worries. The kid got to keep a piece of weird anomalistic hockey history, and Pirri grabbed a fresh stick and scored another goal.

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