Q: What will be the most likely reason for the Penguins' early exit from the playoffs? The fact that they get outshot, 2-1, by teams with twice as many losses as them, or the fact that they give up rebound after rebound and can't get the puck out of their own zone?
Justin, Cranberry Township
MOLINARI: Well, once the playoffs start, odds are the Penguins won't run into a team that has lost twice as many games as they have, so the guess here is that the latter issue poses more of a threat to their chances of enjoying an extended stay in the postseason.
Their mostly lackluster play during the past few weeks aside, it's a bit premature to pencil the Penguins in for a quick exit from the playoffs. They have several individuals gifted enough to alter the course of a series almost singlehandedly; there aren't many coaches around the Eastern Conference who crave the challenge of trying to devise a strategy to neutralize Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marian Hossa, among others.
Still, solid goaltending and team defense become even more important during the playoffs, and the Penguins' play in their own end isn't a particular strength. Holding down the number of second-chance goals they allow, whether by limiting the rebounds they give up or by effectively clearing the ones that do happen, could go a long way toward giving their talented players the opportunity to have a major say in how any best-of-seven plays out.
Q: One of the major tenets of the collective-bargaining agreement was revenue-sharing among teams. With the new arena coming to Pittsburgh, doesn't that mean all teams will get slightly more revenue, with the Penguins not getting any more from their new arena than the Ducks or Coyotes?
Matty Welch, Kaneohe, Hawaii
MOLINARI: Happily for the Penguins, and for capitalists everywhere, the NHL's revenue-sharing program is not pure socialism. The league does not take all the monies generated by the 30 member clubs, pool it, then give everyone an equal share (although that is the formula employed for distributing income from jersey sales). Consequently, the extra revenue the Penguins generate when they when they move into the city's new multi-purpose arena will have a direct and profound impact on things like their ability to maintain a payroll near the ceiling mandated by the league's labor agreement.
The revenue-sharing plan is designed to keep smaller-market franchises financially competitive, and teams must meet two criteria -- ranking in the bottom half of the league in total revenue and operating in a market with fewer than 2.5 million television households -- to be eligible. Clubs qualify for an enhanced payout if their payroll is below the midpoint of the salary-cap range during the season in question.
With the way Western Pennsylvania's population has dropped during the past three or four decades, the Penguins should be able meet the TV-households criterion as long as the revenue-sharing provision remains in effect. Once they move into the building, however, it's reasonable to believe that they will place among the league's top 15 revenue-producers.
Q: I've noticed that as players come out of the locker room, Georges Laraque is almost always the first skater behind the goaltender. Do you know if that's his superstition, or is the team trying to set the tone and send a message to their opponent?
Rusty Akers, Danville, PA
MOLINARI: Lots of players are superstitious about when they go onto the ice; Mario Lemieux, for example, always came on after all of his teammates. In the case of Laraque, simply having him in the lineup and available to be deployed at any time should deliver whatever message the coaching staff believes is necessary.