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Question: Is it me, or has Kris Letang quietly been adding a nice physical element to his game? He's obviously known for his skating and puck-handling, so I'm wondering if the rest just gets overlooked.
MOLINARI: Letang, at 6 feet, 201 pounds, isn't big enough to punish opposing forwards the way fellow defenseman Brooks Orpik can, but he's never been one to shy away from contact, either.
Because he already has spent three-plus seasons in the NHL, it's easy to forget that Letang still is learning to play the position at this level. Fact is, he won't turn 23 until Saturday, and some pretty good prospects on defense are just getting introduced to the NHL at a similar stage of their careers.
As Letang gets increasingly comfortable and confident competing at this level, look for just about every aspect of his game to be further developed and refined. (Hey, he might even start to get a reasonable percentage of his shots on goal at some point.) Playing the body is one of the things he figures to do even more frequently and effectively as he gains experience.
Question: Do you believe that Ruslan Fedotenko is this year's Petr Sykora?
Ed Munoz, Denver
MOLINARI: Well, if you mean does he look like a guy who could lose his place in the lineup, the answer at this point is a resounding yes, giving that Fedotenko has been a healthy scratch for three of the first four games in the Ottawa series.
The intriguing thing about that is Fedotenko traditionally has regular seasons that are ordinary, at best, but ratchets up the quality of his work when the playoffs begin. He certainly had a regular season to forget in 2009-10 -- 11 goals, 19 assists and a team-worst plus-minus rating of minus-17 -- and it remains to be seen whether he'll get a chance to live up to his reputation as a significant contributor during the playoffs.
The thinking here is that he'll get back into the lineup at some point, whether it's because someone gets hurt or simply loses the edge on his game, but being the odd-man out so early in the playoffs suggests that Fedotenko will be on a pretty short leash if and when that happens.
Question: Is the ice at Mellon Arena slowing the Pens down?
Paul McCarthy, Pittsburgh
MOLINARI: The Penguins play an up-tempo, aggressive game that puts an emphasis on skating well, so it certainly would work to their advantage to have a good sheet of ice in their home rink. However, that's not going to happen at Mellon Arena for a variety of reasons, not only the age of the ice-making plant there, but because it's pretty much impossible to control the temperature and humidity levels, and those are two variables that have a huge impact on the quality of the ice.
The good news for the Penguins is that, from all indications, every possible step has been taken to maintain the integrity of the playing surface at the Consol Energy Center. No one is suggesting that the ice there will rival that once found at the Northlands Coliseum (now Rexall Place) in Edmonton, but it should be a significant upgrade over what the Penguins are playing on now.