Should McKee have a spot in the lineup?

Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari

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Question: Do you think Jay McKee has earned a permanent spot in the lineup with his defensive play? I'd have to put him in the top three on this team, based on the Ottawa series. If he made more plays than others, I can't be sure, but it seemed to me he made very good plays when he had to, and did a great job at both blue lines. Of course, if Leopold can come back and be just as physical, it would be tough to keep his shot out of the game. I just think McKee has the experience, and that will play a bigger role.

Jamie Tine, Santa Ana, Calif.

MOLINARI: Getting accurate injury information at this time of year is almost impossible -- former Penguins general manager Craig Patrick once threw reporters completely off the trail by providing what proved to be absolutely accurate information about a player's medical issue -- so it's pretty difficult to predict, with any degree of certainty, when Leopold might be ready to rejoin the lineup.

And even if it were known when Leopold would get clearance to resume playing, it wouldn't necessarily mean McKee would be on his way back to the press box. While it seems that likely is how things would play out, it's conceivable that McKee would stay in the lineup and take over for someone who would become a healthy scratch.

McKee's solid performance during the final four games of the opening round certainly eliminated any temptation management might have to rush Leopold back to work before he is fully recovered. He averaged 15 minutes, 13 seconds of ice time, took a regular shift on the penalty-killing unit and blocked 10 shots, tying Sergei Gonchar for fourth-most on the team.

McKee has been around long enough to recognize the importance of playing within his limitations; that's one of his strengths, and that means keeping his offensive game as simple as possible. He can make a decent first pass, but is not a guy who's going to routinely join the rush or launch lasers at the opposing goaltender.

Leopold has a much more developed offensive game, which is why the Penguins acquired him from Florida at the trade deadline. Coach Dan Bylsma's system puts a premium on being able to move the puck, and Leopold does that well, so unless someone else has fallen out of favor with the coaching staff, the thinking here is that when he's able to get back to work, he will reclaim his spot from McKee.

Of course, what shouldn't be forgotten is that keeping defensemen healthy is a challenge, especially during the playoffs, so odds are that even if McKee loses his place in the lineup, it won't be long before another injury bumps him back up the depth chart.

Q: Do you worry at all about what seems to be a lack of chemistry between Alexei Ponikarovsky and Evgeni Malkin? It's not like they play poorly together, but it would be a stretch to say they are jelling. I know there was a lot of missed time between injuries and suspensions that didn't allow them to work on "getting to their game." It seems weird with Malkin and wingers. He and Petr Sykora were a match made in heaven for a while. Since then, no one really has allowed Malkin to bank the puck off their stick and into the net. If you drop Sidney Crosby on a line with anyone, it seems like instant success.

Matt, Virginia Beach, Va.

MOLINARI: Let's start at the end: Crosby has spent most of his time between Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz since they were acquired near the 2009 trade deadline, but before that, trying to find wingers whose games would mesh with his had been a ongoing issue almost from the moment he entered the league, so it really isn't accurate to suggest that Crosby always a good fit with whoever happens to be placed on his wings.

As for Malkin and Ponikarovsky, it's reasonable to say they haven't developed the kind of chemistry the Penguins were hoping for when they acquired Ponikarovksy from Toronto. The thinking at the time was that Malkin, Ponikarovsky and Ruslan Fedotenko could form a consistently productive second line, but it just hasn't happened yet.

Malkin and Ponikarovsky both had some impressive stretches during the opening round against Ottawa -- think the Penguins' next opponent will spend a little time trying to figure out how to deny Malkin that one-timer from the top of the right circle during the power play? -- but neither consistently had the impact of which they are capable. (Malkin, remember, was the MVP of the playoffs a year ago.)

Suffice to say, as the Penguins move along, they will need regular contributions from just about every line -- especially if opponents focus their defensive efforts on the Crosby line -- and there's no reason that Malkin and Ponikarovsky can't be regulars on the scoresheet. Ponikarovsky can't be counted on to have the same impact as Malkin, of course, but he still has the size and skill to be a significant factor in the offense.


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