Q: Do you get a sense that the ice at Mellon Arena is among the worst in the league? I've noticed many players blowing edges and mishandling pucks lately and wondered if the players were privately grumbling about the state of the ice.
Dale Markham, Dormont
MOLINARI: Ice conditions are not something about which players grumble privately. When guys are unhappy with a playing surface -- and they generally are, no matter what the venue -- they aren't shy about sharing their thoughts with anyone who asks. And some who don't.
An unscientific sampling of Penguins players earlier this week showed that they do, in fact, consider Mellon Arena's ice to be among the worst in the league, although the consensus seemed to be that it is getting better now that the weather is turning colder.
A number of factors -- ranging from temperature and humidity to how often the ice is covered or replaced because of other events in the building -- influence the quality of the ice, and most are out of the team's direct control. It would behoove the Penguins, though, to invest whatever money is needed to get the best possible playing surface in the city's new arena.
After all, having a high-quality sheet of ice will make it possible for players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to get the most out of their extraordinary talents. That could only have a positive impact on the entertainment value of games, which should ratchet up the demand for tickets and the general level of interest in the franchise.
Q: Once his scoring touch returns and his game matures, do you see Jordan Staal becoming a Selke Trophy candidate in coming years?
Paul Czajka, Lansdale, Pa.
MOLINARI: Staal's offensive output shouldn't be part of the equation -- the Selke is supposed to go to the player "who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game" -- and he certainly has the physical assets and hockey sense needed to develop into an exceptional defensive forward.
He also proved last season that he can put up healthy offensive numbers without having his defensive work suffer, so when he resumes putting up points -- and it's a matter of when, not if -- it's not going to detract from the attention he pays to playing well in his own end.
Fact is, Staal has displayed remarkable maturity for a 19-year-old (again) by not neglecting defensive assignments in an attempt to break out of his slump. He hasn't "cheated" by leaving his end early to create a scoring opportunity (which assumes the other club doesn't score first because of the gamble he took) and hasn't allowed his offensive frustrations to knock his focus off his other responsibilities.
Q: Why can't the goalie and four other players line up tightly in front of the goal next to each other, totally covering the 6-foot-by-4-foot opening to prevent a puck from going in, and have the remaining player try to clear it?
MOLINARI: Because the idea is to have people actually pay money to watch the games.
Just because there isn't a rule explicitly prohibiting a strategy doesn't make it a good idea. There's nothing in the rulebook that overtly compels participants to wear skates, either, but you shouldn't expect a club to send out its players in street shoes anytime soon. (Then again, that would be infinitely more entertaining than watching five guys try to form a human shield in front of a net.)