Q: I know how great of a defenseman Sergei Gonchar is, but should he be on the ice for the entire power play?
Tom Kirkbride, Uniontown, Ohio
MOLINARI: No, he shouldn't. Not under almost any conceivable circumstances.
The Penguins don't have four defensemen with the offensive skills a point man should have -- Gonchar, Kris Letang and arguably Philippe Boucher are the only ones now on the roster who do -- but the Penguins would be better off using a "caretaker" point man like Mark Eaton or Brooks Orpik for 30 seconds or so in the middle of the power play so that Gonchar can be at something close to full capacity for the start and, if necessary, conclusion of the man-advantage.
(For the record, Gonchar has been on the ice for 25 minutes and 48 seconds of the 30 minutes, 33 seconds the Penguins have spent on the power play through the first four games of their series against Philadelphia.)
Gonchar's ability to contribute to the success of the power play isn't an issue, but fatigue born of spending too long on the ice can lead to heavy legs and questionable decision-making, which can manifest themselves in costly mistakes and even shorthanded goals. And if Gonchar (or anyone else) tries to pace himself so that he's not running on fumes in the latter stages of the power play, he's not giving his team the best he has to offer, which undermines the whole point of keeping him out there in the first place.
Q: I'm curious as to why the hockey rink at times looks like a firewood sale is going on. What are the sticks made of, and wouldn't it make sense to go back to what the sticks were made of years ago?
Rick McGonigal, Plymouth Meeting, Pa.
MOLINARI: Composite materials have replaced wood as the material of choice for nearly every player in the NHL, presumably because it's possible to get more velocity on shots and because there is consistency from stick to stick, something that isn't possible when working with a natural material.
That's all fine, but composites don't not give players the same "feel" for the puck than wooden ones do and, as you noted, break with alarming regularity. Now, that occasionally can work to a team's favor -- the Penguins probably wouldn't have gotten a five-on-three power play during overtime of Game 2 against Philadelphia if Chris Kunitz used a wooden stick, because it likely wouldn't have gone to pieces the way his composite one did when Claude Giroux slashed it, which gave the officials no option but to assess a penalty -- but 99-plus percent of the time, players are left scrambling to get a replacement stick when the one they're using goes to pieces for no apparent reason.
The typically traditionalist thinking here is that wooden sticks are superior to composite ones in nearly every regard -- guys like Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky, among others, seemed to do OK with them -- although that probably is trumped by the firmly held belief that players should be allowed to use the equipment with which they are most comfortable. At least when their parents don't have to pick up the tab.
Q: What is the rule about game misconducts in the playoffs? I believe that in the regular season, you sit out a game after receiving two misconducts. Is that the same for the playoffs?
Robert Smith, Philipsburg, Pa.
MOLINARI: Actually, a player is suspended for one game after he receives three game misconducts during the regular season (with the punishment increased by one game for each subsequent suspension), but it takes only two during the playoffs to trigger a suspension.