Penguins forward Chris Conner celebrates a goal with teammates Sidney Crosby, rear, and Pascal Dupuis during a game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in New York in January. The Penguins won, 4-2.
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Q: Forget about getting an overpaid scorer. To help the team win another Cup, we need grit, strong penalty-killing and timely secondary scoring. I would expect to see another Max Talbot- or Craig Adams-like player (added) at the trade deadline. Is this more realistic?
Chuck Zaleski, Lewisburg, Pa.
MOLINARI: The Penguins should be adding a guy a lot like Talbot to their lineup, perhaps as early as this evening.
In fact, it will be someone exactly like Talbot, who seems ready to return to the lineup after missing 10 of the Penguins' final 11 games before the Olympic break because of a groin injury. If he can, for the first time this season, start to perform at the level he reached during last spring's playoffs, he will prove to be an extremely valuable pick-up.
Although the Penguins aren't in the market for an overpaid scorer -- know anyone in the league who is? -- they definitely could use a winger to fill a top-six role, presumably on Evgeni Malkin's line. They certainly would benefit from having another legitimate goal-scorer in the lineup, and Talbot (one goal in 28 games this season) and Adams (no goals in his past 91 games) haven't exactly been regular contributors to that secondary scoring mentioned above.
Also, the Penguins' penalty-killing has been satisfactory (it's tied for ninth in the league with a success rate of 83.3 percent) and with guys like Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke, Mike Rupp and Adams, among others, on their third and fourth lines, there is no shortage of grit or guys willing to do the dirty work in the corners and along the boards.
There'd be nothing wrong with general manager Ray Shero picking up a blue-collar winger if he'd bean upgrade over what the Penguins have now, but it shouldn't be a priority between now and the trade deadline at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
Q: During their call-ups, neither Mark Letestu nor Chris Conner looked out of place in the NHL. They both continue to play excellent hockey at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, with Conner even having an occasional record-setting outburst. If this continues over the next two weeks, could you see either or both being on Pittsburgh's playoff roster? My thinking is that their level of play may give Ray Shero the ability to offer a combination of (NHL roster) players in a trade that may help them get the winger or defenseman that most say they need to help their chances at raising the Cup again.
Brad Krenicky, Plymouth Meeting, Pa.
MOLINARI: The Penguins have gotten solid contributions not only from Letestu and Conner, but a number of other guys recalled from their farm team in Wilkes-Barre this season. Whether any of them could be effective over an extended period is hard to say, but guys like Nick Johnson, Dustin Jeffrey and Tim Wallace certainly haven't looked overmatched at this level.
Whether they could step in and perform capably for the stretch drive and playoffs might be moot, however, because teams that are sellers at the trade deadline generally are out of playoff contention, and thus tend to be more interested in adding draft choices or prospects (and shedding payroll, as a fringe benefit) than they are in picking up someone for their major-league lineup.
Of course, it's always possible that Shero could find a trading partner that is playoff-bound but has assets and needs that dovetail nicely with those of the Penguins, in which case having NHL-capable guys in the American Hockey League might make it possible for him to work out a deal that would involve giving up a player or two off the major-league roster.
(Conner, by the way, didn't damage his NHL credentials any last week when he recorded hat tricks in back-to-back games.)