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Q: I was wondering why Evgeni Malkin is never one of the first three guys in the shootout. He usually shoots fourth or fifth, if it goes that far. Is it a coach's decision, or is Malkin not comfortable in shootouts?
MOLINARI: Malkin, as anyone who pays even cursory attention to this game knows, is one of the NHL's elite talents, and does an awful lot of things well. Scoring on shootouts, however, is not on the list. Not even near the bottom of it.
Malkin has scored on five of 25 career shootout attempts, a success rate of 20 percent. That puts him well behind the likes of Sidney Crosby (14-for-30), Kris Letang (8-for-17) and the franchise's all-time shootout go-to guy, Erik Christensen (14-for-23).
Why Malkin struggles in shootouts is anyone's guess, because it's not as if some major flaw in his game is exposed in that setting . Fact is, he can be so lethal on breakaways, which are not unlike penalty-shot attempts, with one significant difference: On breakaways, players usually have to rely on instincts and reflexes, because they have don't the time to concoct a plan of attack and settle on the best way to execute it. On penalty shots, however, they have ample time to formulate a strategy, and to not only think through it, but to over-think it.
Whether that's Malkin's problem on penalty shots is hard to say, but it might be as good a bet as any until someone comes up with something conclusive.
Q: I was looking at the (list of players who will be potential unrestricted free agents) at the end of this year and saw one guy I would love to see back in Pittsburgh. Colby Armstrong. Do you believe he could be a target for Ray Shero next summer, or even at the trade deadline?
Eric Bouchard, Montreal
MOLINARI: The Penguins didn't express any interest in Armstrong when he became a restricted free agent this summer, and understandably so, because he was restricted. That meant Atlanta could have matched any offer he would have accepted from another team, or been entitled to a hefty compensation package if it opted against matching.
Armstrong ended up getting a one-year, $2.4 million deal from the Thrashers, but if he doesn't sign another one before that contract expires at the end of June, he will be unrestricted.
Now, there's every reason to believe Thrashers general manager Don Waddell will try to keep Armstrong, because Atlanta likes all the things about Armstrong that the Penguins did. While he doesn't have the hands most teams would like in a top-six forward (Armstrong had goal and two assists in seven games before the Thrashers played Washington last night) he's fearless, feisty and responsible all over the ice, to say nothing of an excellent ingredient in any club's locker-room chemistry.
Much as the Penguins love Armstrong -- he was included in the deal that brought Marian Hossa here in 2008 because Atlanta insisted on it, not because the Penguins were eager to move him -- they probably are a longshot to pursue him, at least as things stand now.
Their top priority has to be retaining their own free agents, a list topped by defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Kris Letang. And if the salary-cap ceiling drops for 2010-11, as many in the industry have long suspected it will, Shero simply might not have the cap space it would take to sign Armstrong, even if he was interested in pursuing him.