Q: I cannot remember watching a team's coach change linemates the way the Penguins' coach does. Is it reasonable to expect the players will ever develop a chemistry if they are not given the chance?
Robert Smith, Houston, Texas
MOLINARI: Michel Therrien's penchant for juggling forward combinations brings to mind a meteorological observation that people in some regions like to offer up: If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change. In the case of the Penguins, if you don't see a group that you like, wait a few shifts and, if Therrien isn't satisfied with how his current collection of lines is performing, there's a pretty good chance he'll put together some new ones.
Your perspective on linemates needing time to jell and develop chemistry is indisputable. It isn't realistic to expect players who have spent little, if any, time together to have a feel for the nuances of each other's games, and knowing how linemates are going to react in a particular situation helps to make a unit effective.
Therrien, however, clearly believes a cut-your-losses approach is more prudent. His thinking much of the time seems to be that if a line he's assembled doesn't show signs of meshing almost immediately, the best thing to do is break it up and try again rather than run the risk of having if be unproductive for an extended period.
Acceptance of Therrien's philosophy is far from universal, but it's been part of his coaching repertoire for a long time. And it didn't prevent the Penguins from accumulating 105 points last season.
Q: Can we expect to see the offensive production from Petr Sykora that we did last Saturday night?
Josh, Fairmont, W. Va.
MOLINARI: The Penguins had better hope so because, three games into the season, Sykora is the only guy on the team with more than one goal.
Of course, the Penguins signed Sykora during the offseason because of his goal-scoring ability -- something they really needed on the wings of their top two lines -- so it could be argued that he simply is doing his job. Certainly, no matter which unit Sykora plays on, it will be a disappointment if he scores fewer than 30 goals this season.
The striking thing about the ones he got against Anaheim last Saturday was that they did not result from his ability to find seams in the defense or his knack for quickly releasing an accurate shot. Instead, they were workingman's goals, particularly the first, when he charged into a scrum in the crease to knock a loose puck over the goal line. (The second came on a Georges Laraque rebound.)
When a guy with the skills needed to play a finesse game is willing to consistently go into high-traffic (translation: potentially high-pain) areas in order to score goals, there's a pretty good chance that he'll be able to meet his production quota.