Q: With Evgeni Malkin's recent surge, is it reasonable to think that he is a legitimate candidate for the Hart Trophy? Who has been more valuable to the Penguins than he has? With Sidney Crosby absent, he has put the Pens on his shoulders.
Bryan Mullins, Florence, S.C.
MOLINARI: With about a third of the regular season remaining, it really is too early to project how voting for the NHL's individual honors will go, at least with any degree of certainty, and even who will merit serious consideration for them isn't clear yet. A player who looks like a viable Hart candidate today could sputter down the stretch and end up as a non-factor in the voting, which isn't conducted until after the season, while someone who is simply having a good season to this point could surge in the closing weeks and, in the process, help to lift his team to heights few anticipated it would reach.
If Malkin continues to perform at the level he has reached since Sidney Crosby was injured, however, and the Penguins continue to contend for first place in the Atlantic Division (and even the top seed in the Eastern Conference), it's hard to believe that he wouldn't at least be part of the Hart mix. There are plenty of qualified contenders -- guys like Alex Ovechkin and Jarome Iginla, among others -- but Malkin certainly isn't out of place on the list.
Q: For all the good that Craig Patrick did for the Penguins, one has to add to his list of gaffes, not picking up R.J. Umberger when the Canucks made him available.
Bryan Justman, Modesto, Calif.
MOLINARI: Well, the Penguins probably agree, at least eight times a year. Those would be the eight days on which they have to face Umberger, a Plum native who is more productive against them than any other club. His two-goal performance in the Penguins' 4-3 victory Sunday gave him six in five games against them this season, and he has eight goals and 10 assists in 20 games against the Penguins since entering the NHL.
Going into the Flyers' game against Tampa Bay last night, Umberger had 11 goals this season, which means he had gotten more against the Penguins than he had against the rest of the league.