Q: Even though the assist has been more emblematic of Sidney Crosby's career so far, do you see him scoring more goals? I know he loves to dish it to teammates, but when he scores -- though I have no statistical data to back this up -- I feel the team wins more games.
Todd Shikora, Chicago
MOLINARI: The Penguins are 7-1-1 when Crosby scores, so having him get at least one goal certainly seems to enhance their chances of winning.
But even though Crosby has six goals in the past three games and seven in the past five, playmaking is, was and always will be the cornerstone of his offensive game.
It's no accident that Fleury has been finding the net so often lately, however, because he has been skating so well. While superior instincts and hand skills are staples of his game, Crosby's speed has allowed him to create quite a few scoring chances from close range, and those are the kind on which he is most likely to capitalize.
Most of Crosby's goals come from no more than about 15 feet from the net (empty-netters like the one he scored from his belly last Saturday against New Jersey notwithstanding), and he has been able to consistently blow past or around opposing defensemen lately and get off high-percentage shots. He's also been getting into positions around the crease that make it possible for him to capitalize on a lot of rebounds and set-ups by his linemates.
Q: Dany Sabourin over Marc-Andre Fleury. I know it's early, but all signs are Sabourin is the better goalie. If you look at the past performance of Fleury, he's a middle-of-the-pack goalie who gets hurt a lot. He's a No. 1 pick, he should be a difference-maker. Trade him now, before everyone else figures it out.
MOLINARI: Yeah, sounds like a plan. Not a good one -- or one even remotely rooted in reality -- but a plan, nonetheless.
All the Fleury-bashers who didn't seem to grasp that young goalies need time to develop and learn their craft appeared to fade away during the stretch drive and playoffs last season, when Fleury returned from his high ankle sprain and played a leading role in getting the Penguins to within two victories of a Stanley Cup. Fact is, he probably was their best player during the first three rounds of the playoffs.
There are reasons that Fleury was a No. 1 draft choice and is the Penguins' undisputed No. 1 goalie, just as there are reasons that Sabourin has, at age 28, appeared in more than nine games in a season just once in his NHL career.
None of that is intended as a slight to Sabourin, to downplay the superb manner in which he has performed this season -- his goals-against average of 1.84 was the best in the NHL going into last night's games -- or to detract from what a good partner he has been for Fleury, but getting exceptional goaltending is critical to almost every team that has serious success during the playoffs, and Fleury is far more capable of providing that than Sabourin is.
Perhaps it went unnoticed earlier this year when that middle-of-the-pack goalie compiled the second-best goals-against average (1.97) in the Stanley Cup playoffs, along with the highest save percentage (.933) of any goalie who lasted beyond the first round. Or maybe some people just don't think that's good enough to make a difference.