• Q: Do you think there is a chance of Michel Therrien having Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby play together for a significant amount of time? In the short term, it is certainly working. In the long term (once Jordan Staal has become an established and reliable second-line center), it would seem to work. This solves two problems: What to do with three first-line centers and where to find a reliable scoring winger capable of keeping up with Crosby.
Sean Gorman, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
MOLINARI: Had you raised this issue just a few days earlier, the answer would have been different -- emphatically different, in fact -- because the Penguins have always insisted that they view Malkin as a center, and that he was used alongside Crosby only for specific, short-term reasons. Generating a goal when they desperately needed one, for example, or trying to jump-start a sluggish offense, which was the thinking when those two were united about a week ago.
Therrien, though, suggested to colleague Shelly Anderson Wednesday that he might well keep Crosby and Malkin together for an extended stretch, which represents a radical change in philosophy. Not long after they drafted Staal in 2006, the notion of assembling three scoring lines -- not the two that most teams have -- began to gain support inside the organization, and it made perfect sense for a club that had natural centers like Crosby, Malkin and Staal. Making Crosby and Malkin a semi-permanent tandem would seem to pretty much spell the end of that idea.
That Crosby and Malkin are productive as linemates doesn't qualify as news -- it's the reason they been put together since last season in situations when there's an urgency to score -- but using the Penguins' two top offense threats on one line obviously will allow opponents to focus their defensive efforts on that unit. That means Crosby's line is assured of facing the best checking lines and defensive pairings of every team it faces, especially when so few of their teammates are putting up numbers that would grab the attention of opposing coaches.
Being targeted that way isn't likely to bother Crosby or Malkin or send one into a protracted scoring drought -- it's not as if either had been ignored by opponents to this point in his career -- but they can expect to battle for every scoring chance they get.
• Q: I've never understood the unwritten rule of having to go with a goaltender 90 percent of the time. After having a real nice game in Minnesota and a couple of others, Dany Sabourin should be able to keep the job until he has a bad game. Then, replace him with Marc-Andre Fleury until he has a bad game. If the goalies are like the rest of the team, they should understand this. Am I being completely ridiculous by going against the time-honored idea of a No. 1 goalie?
David Farone, Bear, Del.
MOLINARI: Sabourin did precisely what teams want from their backup goalie during the game in Minnesota, producing 60 solid, if rarely spectacular, minutes and giving the Penguins a chance to win. He played well enough, to be sure, that coach Michel Therrien didn't have to strain to justify coming back with him for last night's game at Colorado.
However, Fleury clearly is the Penguins' go-to goalie and, unless management has another radical change in plans, the guy who will be counted on to help carry the team as far as it can go this season. That means the Penguins don't want to keep him on the bench for too long, especially when he is struggling to find his game. If Fleury is to get into a groove -- and, more important, to continue to develop into the top-shelf goaltender the Penguins believe he can be -- he has to play, so if he stays healthy, it's unlikely Sabourin will start more than a few games in a row at any point this season.
While there are examples of teams succeeding while splitting the workload between two goalies -- witness Minnesota with the Manny Fernandez-Dwayne Roloson tandem, following by Fernandez-Niklas Backstrom -- the vast majority of teams have one goalie with talent and/or potential clearly superior to that of his partner, and that is the case with Fleury and Sabourin.
Sabourin understood the situation before signing with the Penguins as a free agent in July and, while he naturally wants to play as much as possible, has no delusions about getting a 50-50 split with Fleury. If it ever gets to the point where Sabourin has had as many starts as Fleury, chances are that either Fleury has been injured or the Penguins are in a bad, bad way.