Q: I have serious concerns about what appears to be a potentially huge problem -- faceoffs. It seems the Pens one of the worst teams in this regard of those that may qualify for the playoffs. Is it just me, or is this an inadequacy that might cost the Penguins a goal or two, which could be very critical in tight playoff games?
Bill Holt, Wheeling, W. Va.
MOLINARI: Forget playoff teams. The Penguins are the worst faceoff club in the league. Period. And it's not even close.
They went into last night's game with a success rate of 46.1 percent on draws; the second-worst team in the league, Minnesota, had won 47.4 percent of its faceoffs.
The Penguins might be slightly better on faceoffs now than their numbers suggest, because their best faceoff man, Sidney Crosby, missed much so of the season with a high ankle sprain. Crosby entered the Flyers game with a 51.4 percent success rate.
The numbers for their next three guys who have been handling a significant number of faceoffs were considerably worse. Max Talbot had won 45 percent, Jordan Staal 42.3 percent and Evgeni Malkin 39.
Because all of their faceoff men are so young, and because experience tends to be a key component of success on draws, the Penguins have legitimate reasons to believe they will continue to improve in that regard in coming seasons. They also have a couple of injured forwards, Adam Hall and Kris Beech, who are effective on faceoffs, and could help if they crack the lineup during the playoffs.
Still, it was a surprise that general manager Ray Shero didn't bring in a quality faceoff man at the trade deadline. He did address the Penguins' two most pressing concerns -- a goal-scoring winger (Marian Hossa) and solid veteran defenseman (Hal Gill) -- but someone who could so more than hold his own on draws would have been a good addition, too.
The perils of losing as many draws as the Penguins do should be obvious: It's tough for even the most skilled club to manufacture a goal when the other team has the puck, and any draw that's lost in the defensive zone has the potential to develop into a scoring chance for whoever controls it. Considering how tight playoff games tend to be, giving up even one goal because of a lost faceoff can be enough to alter the course of a game. And, quite possibly, a series.
Q: What's the rationale for the delayed-penalty rule? Doesn't the current rule let the offending player off the hook, since he never has to serve any time in the box (if the other team scores)?
Steve, New York City
MOLINARI: Delayed penalties have been part of the game for what seems like forever, so it's impossible to say precisely what the thinking was when that rule was formulated.
The feeling here, though, is that because the team which was "fouled" is able to replace its goaltender with an extra attacker with no fear of giving up a goal -- unless it puts the puck into its own net, of course -- and focus solely of generating a goal until the other club touches the puck, there would be a double-jeopardy of sorts if the penalized player still was sent to the box if the team that pulled its goalie scores a goal.
While, technically, the team that is about to be penalized doesn't experience a manpower disadvantage until its player actually goes to the penalty box, its opponent does have the ability to add a skater with no risk of having to pay for what would be a high-risk gamble under other circumstances.