How deep are the Penguins on defense?

Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari

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Q: Did you ever, in your wildest dreams, imagine that four players who started the year with the Penguins' farm team would play together on the NHL team? That said, did you ever imagine that said four players would do other than embarrass themselves in an NHL game? I think it is a testament to the coaching staff and the management. It's nice to have the luxury of a defense corps that is this deep and can play within a system and be successful. I am not ready to pronounce any of the farm-team members ready to supplant any of the current starters, but still it helps to have this kind of depth.

Fred Schuck, Birmingham Ala.

MOLINARI: Injuries are, of course, a critical part of the game, and there's nothing that precludes them coming in clusters. Still, the run of medical issues with which the Penguins have had to deal, especially among their defensemen, would have been almost impossible to anticipate. For any team to have four or five of its top six defensemen in street clothes on a given night probably isn't unprecedented, but it certainly isn't typical, either.

Still, every team anticipates injuries to its defensemen, which is why clubs like to have about 10 capable of playing at an NHL level in their organization, although that isn't always practical in the salary-cap era. The Penguins learned during the past few weeks that they, in fact, do.

Martin Skoula has stepped up from his spot as the No. 7 defenseman and proved he still can be a reliable contributor in this league, while Deryk Engelland, Ben Lovejoy and Nate Guenin all have done a credible job while filling in on the blue line. That doesn't mean they've made anyone forget about the absence of guys like Sergei Gonchar, Alex Goligoski, Brooks Orpik or Kris Letang, but they haven't been liabilities, either. And when a guy who isn't regarded as an elite prospect is brought up from the American Hockey League, that likely is all his club should hope it can take for granted.

Q: I've been mulling over a question regarding the 'premiere' of the Consol Energy Center for a couple weeks now. Will the Penguins play home pre-season games in the building next year? To me, hosting those games would devalue what I'm sure will be a ceremony-filled home opener. While I can see the value from a logistics standpoint in having the events as a dry-run for the Pens' new house, I can't get past it feeling entirely too anticlimactic and, well, tacky.

Jordan Kulik, Regent Square

MOLINARI: Neither has been announced yet, but it's reasonable to assume that there will be a non-sporting event or two, as well as a couple of preseason games, at Mellon Arena before the Penguins play their first regular-season game there next fall.

It's also reasonable to assume that the regular-season home-opener at the Consol Energy Center will feature some trappings that won't be part of any exhibition games there. While there might be something to be said for keeping the building under wraps until the first game that actually matters, having a few dry runs to work out some of the kinks that inevitably pop up with a new facility -- kinks that could detract from that opening-night experience if they weren't addressed beforehand -- probably is more important.


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