Q: Tyler Kennedy has played well this season and is holding his own in the playoffs. What is your evaluation of him and do you think he has top-six talent for the future?
Gerald Sipe, Delray Beach, Fla.
MOLINARI: Kennedy has had a very effective rookie season, especially for a guy who turned in a lackluster training camp, and has been solid to this point of the playoffs. It's safe to assume, though, that he and his bosses would like to see Kennedy's shooting percentage improve a bit. Heading into Game 5 against the New York Rangers yesterday, Kennedy had put 17 shots on goal during these playoffs, and failed to score on any of them.
Kennedy is just 21, so it's probably a little early to pass definitive judgment on his long-term role in the NHL, but indications now are that it might be a bit of a stretch to project him onto a first or second line at this level, at least on a good team. He plays a solid game at both ends of the ice, but Kennedy never has averaged a point per game since breaking into major-junior hockey.
Mind you, a player doesn't have to be a huge point-producer to be effective in a top-six niche -- witness the contributions Pascal Dupuis has made playing alongside Sidney Crosby and Marian Hossa -- but it's good to have wingers who can take full advantage of the playmaking abilities of guys like Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Q: From your day-to-day dealings with the team, do the players seem more self-assured since the playoffs started? (Were they even lacking confidence before it all began?) Have they remained even-keeled?
Jeff Young, New York City
MOLINARI: Your question was submitted shortly before Game 4, and the response was formulated before Game 5 ended, so the circumstances changed significantly once, and have done so again by now, no matter what the outcome.
Nonetheless, the Penguins have remained remarkably composed and even-keeled to this point of the playoffs, especially for a team with so many key members lacking significant playoff experience at this level. They took each of their first seven victories pretty much in stride, obviously aware of the truths behind the clich?? about needing to win four games before a series is over, and responded to their lackluster showing in Game 4 with a clear determination to upgrade their play in Game 5. Success in the playoffs is more than a matter of focus and effort, of course -- talent and execution have a lot to do with it -- but there hasn't been any good reason to question their mindset so far.
The Penguins did, in fact, enter the playoffs with considerable confidence, probably because of the way they were able to overcome adversity during the regular season. Their fight for a playoff berth could have been torpedoed by the long-term injuries to key players like Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and Gary Roberts, but other players reacted to increased responsibilities and ice time by elevating their games.
Having the kind of team success made possible by those individual contributions convinced the Penguins that can compete with any team, but they never seemed to cross the line where they began to take winning for granted.