What are your thoughts on the makeup of the lines, especially Sidney's Crosby's?

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Q: I know the season is early, but what are your thoughts on the makeup of the lines, especially Sidney's Crosby's? I understand Miroslav Satan was acquired to play alongside Sid and I like the move, all things considered. But why is Ruslan Fedotenko on that line? I always thought of him as more of a checking-line type player. Why did Pascal Dupuis fall off that line? I know he isn't your natural first-line guy, but he played well during the playoff run.

Eric Gesk, Belle Mead, N.J.

MOLINARI: Although there's every reason to believe Satan can be productive on Crosby's right side - his power-play goal during the Penguins' miserable 2-1 overtime loss to New Jersey Saturday showed that he still can be opportunistic around the net, a critical trait for guys who play with Crosby - the search for someone to play on his left continues. And might not end anytime soon.

Fedotenko was plugged in there late in the preseason, but Dupuis, who got considerable work in that role after being acquired from Atlanta at the trade deadline and opened training camp there, got time there during the third period against the Devils.

Dupuis is an important member of this team because he is responsible defensively and can be used in a variety of situations, but he does not have the offensive skills needed to take full advantage of Crosby's playmaking abilities. The trouble is, neither do any of the other left wingers currently on the Penguins' depth chart.

All of which means that Janne Pesonen, an accomplished scorer in his native Finland who was the final forward sent to the Penguins' farm team in Wilkes-Barre before the regular season began, might well be the best candidate in their organization to produce goals with any regularity if he's placed alongside Crosby at some point in the future.

Until the Penguins come up with linemates who can convert a decent percentage of the scoring opportunities Crosby creates, there will be extra pressure on Evgeni Malkin's line to generate goals. He has the best left winger on the team (converted center Jordan Staal) and, when Petr Sykora is healthy, a right winger with a proven scoring touch. Sykora missed the first three games of the season because of a groin injury, but has spoken optimistically of being able to play when Philadelphia visits Mellon Arena tomorrow night.

The Penguins' third line, which has Max Talbot between Matt Cooke and Fedotenko (or Dupuis), is ideal for the niche it fills, while the No. 4 unit is fine for the limited role it is given. Especially on the occasions when it has an actual winger, not yet another defenseman coach Michel Therrien has opted to play out of position, on the left side. (Although at least when Therrien used Darryl Sydor there Saturday, he wasn't transplanting a guy who has a prominent role in the franchise's future, as was the case last season when Whitney and Brooks Orpik were bumped from their usual positions to the wing.)

Q: With Sergei Gonchar and Whitney out for at least the first half of the season, I can see potential problems for the Penguins. If Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski cannot pick up the slack and it is obvious we are suffering because of this, do you think the Penguins would consider a trade of any kind to try to fill the void? Seems a bit drastic, but it could happen.

Steve, Baldwin

MOLINARI: It is not realistic for anyone to believe Goligoski and Letang can remove all the sting from losing Gonchar and Whitney - if that really were the case, general manager Ray Shero should begin to solicit offers for Gonchar and Whitney as soon as he gets to the office this morning, because they would bring huge returns and moving them would free up a lot of money to spend on other needs, like elite wingers for Crosby - and the Penguins have to be at least a little concerned about their underachieving power play and inability to generate more than two goals during their past two games. Certainly, there's reason to believe the Penguins would be better than 2-for-18 with the man-advantage if Gonchar and/or Whitney were in the lineup.

Ideally, though, the Penguins will at least be able to tread water until December, when they hope to get Whitney back, and remain in contention for a division title until Gonchar is able to play again, which might not be until the waning weeks of the regular season. Because both are scheduled to return this season, it would not be prudent to pay the steep price that would be required to bring in offensive defenseman with the skills of Gonchar or Whitney unless management sees absolutely no other way of salvaging the team's season.

And even if Shero decides such a deal is necessary, identifying the right candidate to bring in and negotiating to acquire him wouldn't be the tough part. The really difficult thing would be clearing the salary-cap space to handle a high-impact defenseman's contract since at the moment, the Penguins are about 38 cents below the ceiling.



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