Q: There has not been a single discussion in this forum about an often-overlooked, yet important, statistic. Giveaways. Depending on which site you go to, the Pens are anywhere between third and eighth in giveaways in the league, and I dare say Sidney Crosby is among the individual leaders. This is extremely problematic. In the game against Buffalo Monday, two giveaways led to goals. I believe Michel Therrien has noticed this, but has anyone put him on the carpet about it? Is this a lapse in puck support team-wide? How do the Pens address this issue?
Kevin Novak, Atlanta
MOLINARI: For starters, there is only one set of official numbers for giveaways, or any other statistic recognized and maintained by the league. If there is a disparity in the Penguins' totals posted at various places on the Internet, it suggests that someone is either keeping his or her own version of the stats or isn't keeping the correct numbers updated.
The Penguins have one, and only one, ranking in any statistical category. In the case of giveaways, they were 18th in the NHL going into last night's games with 110. Los Angeles led the league with 263. (The disparity in those totals underscores the subjective nature of this particular stat, since something that is a giveaway to the stat-keeper scorer in one city isn't necessarily a giveaway to a stat-keeper in another.)
It also is true that not all giveaways are created equal. Some are rooted in a simple puckhandling or passing blunders, like the Brooks Orpik turnover that led to Derek Roy's goal during the Sabres' 4-3 victory Monday. Others are the inevitable by-product of a player's creativity, of attempts to do things that go beyond making the ordinary -- or even safe -- play.
It's no accident that Crosby leads the Penguins with 24 giveaways (although he was just tied for 30th in the league before last night) or that Evgeni Malkin is close behind with 22. Or, for that matter, some of the league's premier talents -- guys like Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Richards, Jason Spezza, Thomas Vanek, Ilya Kovalchuk, Daniel Alfredsson and Veincent Lecavalier, among many others -- are ahead of those two on the league list.
Therrien, like every other coach in the league, obviously is aware of turnovers, and was so upset about the volume of them doing a game earlier this season that, after reviewing the tapes, he posted a player-by-player breakdown of who had been responsible for turning the puck over.
Still, it is important to recognize the difference between giveaways that are the result of a brain cramp and one that stems from a player trying to, for lack of a better phrase, make something happen. Not every play that Crosby or Malkin tries is a high-percentage move; what makes players like those special is that they can pull off an inordinate number of them. But not all of them.
Q: This is not so much a question as a complaint about the NHL's all-star voting system. It allows for write-in votes to cover the balance of players (who aren't on the ballot). However, while attempting to write-in a vote for Brooks Orpik, the write-in system looked him up and allowed me to select him, but the system kept telling me his ID code (which it provided) was not valid. I guess what I'm most disappointed about is that all top-line starters do not merit selection, only the perceived top 10 or 15. Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar are there despite not seeing much good ice time this year. More power to them for the votes they receive, but this can only be based on popularity and not performance this season. I supposed true defensemen are supposed to take some much-needed rest and watch the game on TV.
Rob Williams, Baden
MOLINARI: You did hit on a couple of relevant points: As long as the fans are allowed to vote for the all-star teams, it will be a popularity contest -- remember, neither Gonchar nor Whitney has taken a single shift this season, but they still rank third and fourth in the most recent Eastern Conference totals at their position, so performance obviously isn't a factor in the support they've gotten -- and defensive defensemen like Orpik aren't likely ever to be voted into the game.
They probably shouldn't be, either, since the only thing the NHL all-star game has in common with an actual hockey game is that both are played on ice, and guys who make their livings throwing checks and blocking shots and playing hard in their own zone aren't going to be of much use in a game where neither body contact nor defensive play has a place.
While being selected to play in the game obviously is an honor, it has virtually no entertainment value -- not for people who like real hockey, anyway -- and serves no significant purpose other than to generate a little revenue and to give league officials an opportunity to schmooze big-money sponsors. Of course, this year, it also gives hockey people an excuse to spend a few days in Montreal, and most seem to believe that that's never a bad thing.