Q: Has there ever been a division in the NHL's current playoff set-up that has sent all of its teams to the playoffs?
Lt. Rich Pelesky, USN, Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan
MOLINARI: First and foremost, Lt. Pelesky, thank you for your service to our country.
Nearly three decades have passed since the last time a division sent all of its members to the playoffs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That was in 1980-81, when Buffalo, Boston, Minnesota, Quebec and Toronto, all of whom played in the Adams, qualified for postseason play.
The only other times that happened were in 1977-78 and 1978-79, when the four clubs that made up the Patrick Division in those days -- Philadelphia, Atlanta, the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers -- got in. (The Penguins were in the Norris Division back then.) By the way, the first time it was possible for a division to have all of its clubs qualify for the playoffs was 1974-75, when the league adopted a four-team format.
It's no accident that divisions, all of which now have five members, rarely get every team into the playoffs. Not only because of parity, but because the NHL's postseason format guarantees the three division-winners from each conference a spot in the eight-team field, regardless of how many points they earn during the regular season. That means there are only five other slots available, and the odds clearly are stacked against any one division grabbing four of those.
One significant factor in that is the league's heavy emphasis on intra-division play, because every time a club beats an opponent from its division, it is claiming two points at the expense of that other club (although the latter obviously can get one if it loses in overtime or a shootout).
Q: In overtime of the (Jan. 1) Buffalo game, the Pens were killing a penalty using two wingers and one defenseman. I found it a bit surprising that they did not use two defensemen in that spot, but even more surprising was that Rob Scuderi was the defenseman on one of the first two shifts. That would seem to indicate that with Mark Eaton out, the Pens' coaching staff sees Scuderi as either the best or second-best defenseman, from a purely defensive standpoint. Do you agree with this?
Marty Graff, Dresher, Pa.
MOLINARI: The Penguins routinely use two forwards in situations like the one you cited, which stemmed from a hooking minor called on Colby Armstrong as regulation expired. And while Scuderi seems to be a popular whipping boy with some segments of the Penguins' fan base -- and even his most staunch supporters don't see a Norris Trophy in his future -- the reality is that he is reliable and responsible in his own end, with an ability to read plays and react to them that is particularly valuable when his team is shorthanded.
If coach Michel Therrien is looking for someone to make a spectacular play, Scuderi is going to be pretty far down the list of candidates. If Therrien needs a defenseman who can make intelligent plays in the defensive zone, he could make a lot worse choices than Scuderi.