• Q: What is Ryan Whitney's reputation around the league? I am seriously worried about his ability to play with any grit. I put up with this nonsense all last season. His body-checking is far from intimidating, and I believe he takes dumb penalties attempting to prove his legitimacy as guardian for the stars of this team. Do you have any problem with the intensity and physicality of his play? I know you don't need to be fearsome hitter to be a great defenseman, but for some reason his play rubs me the wrong way.
MOLINARI: OK, in order:
1) Whitney is generally regarded as an excellent offensive talent, with the potential to challenge for a Norris Trophy someday.
2) There's a difference between having "grit" and being a punishing hitter. Whitney doesn't make a habit of throwing hard hits and never will, but that should not be confused with a lack of grit.
3) Dumb penalties? Plural? Whitney has been assessed one -- count it, one -- minor in 12 games this season, a holding penalty against Montreal Oct. 10. That total reflects the lack of physical play in his game, but it is flat-out inaccurate to accuse him of taking "dumb penalties."
4) Guardian for the stars of this team? He is one of the stars of this team.
5) It would be terrific for the Penguins if Whitney added a physical element to his game. Trouble is, it also would go against his nature, and possibly disrupt the offensive aspects of his style if he tried to make such a fundamental change in the way he plays.
It's understandable if some people get frustrated with Whitney because he's big (6 foot 4, 219 pounds), but doesn't play that way, but there's a reason the Penguins deemed him worthy of a six-year, $24 million contract. If they ever decide they don't have a place for him in their plans -- and you shouldn't look for them to come to that conclusion anytime soon -- there will be a few dozen teams eager to take him off their hands.
• Q: If a player ends overtime in the penalty box, can he participate in the shootout?
Troy King, Charlotte, N.C.
MOLINARI: Yes, and it happened as recently as Oct. 27, when Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar was penalized with less than two seconds to go in overtime, but took part in the shootout that eventually led to a 4-3 Canadiens victory. (Gonchar was one of eight Penguins who failed to beat Montreal goalie Carey Price.)
Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau, by the way, suggested later that the rules should be changed to prohibit a player serving a penalty as time expires from participating in the shootout. That's what it will take, because Rule 84.4 makes it clear Gonchar was allowed to take part. It reads, in part, that "All players are eligible to participate in the shootout unless they are serving a 10-minute misconduct or have been assessed a game misconduct or match penalty."