Q: How would you rate Kris Letang's performance since being called up?
Bill, Amsterdam, N.Y.
MOLINARI: Letang has shown flashes of his exceptional offensive talents during his five games here -- the way he danced around New Jersey defenseman Colin White in the slot late in the third period last Wednesday was particularly striking -- and he's picked up an assist in each of the past two games after failing to score in the first three. None of that should shock anyone, though, because offense is Letang's forte.
What is surprising -- and has to be extremely encouraging for the coaches and management -- is his strong work in the defensive zone. It clearly was stressed to Letang that taking care of his own end is his primary responsibility here, and he's done it. He's been consistently solid, making sound decisions and executing efficiently -- things he didn't do during training camp, which is why he started the season in the American Hockey League in the first place.
When he was benched for a couple of games in Wilkes-Barre last month for poor defensive play, there seemed to be little reason to think Letang would make it to the NHL this season, let alone in a matter of weeks. And even less reason to think he'd be a reliable contributor here.
While it's still too early to make a definitive judgment on whether Letang is ready to claim a permanent place in the NHL, he's reaching the point where he isn't performing on adrenaline anymore, and the quality of his play shows no signs of slipping. If anything, it's improving as he becomes more comfortable with his teammates and his job description.
Q: How long has it been since Pens scored a goal in which Crosby and/or Malkin did not figure in?
Steve Grazier, Richmond, Ohio
MOLINARI: You submitted this question a few hours before the Penguins' 6-5 shootout victory in Ottawa last Thursday, when they got three -- count 'em, three -- goals during regulation that neither Crosby nor Malkin scored or set up.
So while the specific point you raised was rendered moot, the issue behind it -- the Penguins' lack of offensive diversity this season -- remains very real, and is a major factor in their disappointing record through the first 23 games. Getting goals from the likes of Jordan Staal and Colby Armstrong Saturday is another reason for encouragement, but having some new names show up on the scoresheet for a game or two doesn't mean the problem has been rectified.
Oh, and for those with a penchant for trivia, before Tyler Kennedy scored from Staal eight minutes into the second period of the Senators game, the Penguins had not gotten a goal that Crosby or Malkin did not score or set up since their 4-2 loss at Madison Square Garden Nov. 8. Mark Recchi recorded their second goal of that game off assists from Gary Roberts and Sergei Gonchar.