Q: There's a lot of talk about Evgeni Malkin for MVP, but I haven't heard anyone mention him for the Selke. I believe they said on a recent broadcast that he leads the league in takeaways and has been terrific defensively, all while leading the league in scoring.
George McGee, New Market, Md.
MOLINARI: With a dozen days left in the regular season, Malkin looks like a longshot to beat out Washington's Alex Ovechkin for the Hart Trophy, which goes to the NHL's most valuable player, but his chances of winning that are infinitely better than those of him getting the Selke as the league's top defensive forward.
Not because of any significant shortcomings in his game -- Malkin has matured into a sensational two-way center -- but because his offensive talents tend to overshadow his defensive work. Truth be told, Jordan Staal, not Malkin, is the Penguin who turns up most often in conversations about the Selke, although he's hardly portrayed as a front-runner at this stage of his career.
At this point, Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit and Philadelphia's Mike Richards appear to be the top two contenders, with guys like Henrik Zetterberg and Mikko Koivu also drawing some attention.
Q: What is the point of dressing Eric Godard for every game? All he does is come out for a staged fight early in the game and then is never seen on the ice again. Additionally, since there isn't fighting in the playoffs, he won't need to be dressed then. Craig Adams has not only looked good when playing, but makes the fourth line more productive.
MOLINARI: Godard fills one of the most specialized roles on the team.
His primary job is to fight. Oh, the Penguins like when he also contributes in some other way, whether it's scoring a goal or throwing a hit or keeping a cycle going, but make no mistake: They brought Godard in last summer because he is one of the league's better (and most willing) heavyweights, and he has executed his duties, such as they are, pretty effectively. As long as the NHL permits fighting (even though it penalizes the players who do it), there will be a place on almost every roster for an enforcer.
You are correct, though, that fighting traditionally declines during the playoffs. Consequently, unless there is something about a particular matchup that convinces interim coach Dan Bylsma that he needs to have a tough guy in uniform, Godard figures to be replaced by Adams much of the time. Adams is a solid, versatile blue-collar forward who also will give the Penguins another good penalty-killer.
Q: I recently saw an article about some European league in which Ziggy Palffy was playing. It seemed that he was playing fairly well over there. I thought his hockey days were done due to a shoulder injury. Do you know if he still has any desire to return to the NHL? Don't the Penguins still own his rights? How old is he and do you feel he could be an answer on wing for us?
Mark Maceiko, Uniontown
MOLINARI: Because Palffy walked away from the Penguins while still under contract to them, they retained his NHL rights. (Palffy said he had to quit because of shoulder issues but the Penguins disputed that and, because the team subsequently stopped paying him with no known repercussions, there apparently was merit to management's position.) Palffy had 52 goals and 47 assists in 53 games with HK 36 Skalica in the Slovak Extraliga this season, which is pretty good production for a guy who will turn 37 on May 5. It wouldn't have mattered if he'd had 520 goals and 470 assists, though, because even if the Penguins believed he still could contribute at this level, it's pretty much inconceivable that they'd be interested in bringing back a guy who walked out on them in the middle of a season.