Q: Injuries aside, are the Pens starting to tune out Michel Therrien, with their continued lack of effort?
Ken Feigert, Hubbard, Ohio
MOLINARI: Anything is possible and, now that Therrien has completed his third calendar year on the job, an argument could be made that his shelf life has just about expired, that he's reached the point where coaches find it increasingly difficult to keep the attention of their players.
There are, however, other factors that likely have played a part in the Penguins' recent struggles -- quite possibly more than any issue between Therrien and his players.
The injuries you mentioned can't simply be put aside. The Penguins haven't had Sergei Gonchar all season, have had Ryan Whitney for one game and played without Marc-Andre Fleury for a month. Throw in significant injuries to numerous members of the supporting cast, and the Penguins have played most of the first 2 ?? months of the season with a significantly diluted lineup. That's particularly bad because, even if they were healthy, their roster would not be as imposing as the one they had during the stretch drive and playoffs last spring.
The impact of a pretty hectic schedule should not be overlooked, either. They played seven games in 11 days during one stretch early this month, and their lackluster 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay Tuesday night came in their fourth game in six nights. Surviving a grinding schedule is part of the challenge of being a good team in the NHL, of course, but that's a lot tougher to do for a club that's forced to piece its lineup together with minor-league call-ups and guys forced to take on responsibilities outside their usual job descriptions.
After not winning consecutive games for more than a month and steadily sliding toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff field, the Penguins have plenty about which they should be concerned heading into their game at New Jersey Friday night. But if they need a little infusion of optimism and hope -- and the thinking here is that they certainly do -- the Penguins might find it in this nugget of knowledge: Despite going 3-6 in their past nine games, they still are four points ahead of where they were after 34 games in 2007-08.
Q: When the NHL Players' Association and the owners were hashing out the new collective bargaining agreement, which side did not want to play any games on Christmas Day? It seems like a wasted opportunity to get some exposure to mainstream sports fans when millions of people will be gathered in living rooms, near a television. Right now, the only option is to watch the NBA all day. I understand that the players would want to be home with their families, if possible, but it seems like a major gaffe to pass up this opportunity. I would expect that an annual rematch up the Stanley Cup final would draw better interest than the Rocky marathon scheduled on Versus.
Jerry, Lynchburg, Va.
MOLINARI: Christmas Day games used to be common in the NHL. The Penguins, for example, played on Dec. 25 in four of their first five seasons in the league. (And, considering that they went 3-1 in those games, might want to start a drive to get holiday games back on the schedule.)
The holiday break, which prohibits any team activity on Dec. 24 and 25, has been mandated by the league's labor agreement for decades and, like everything else in the CBA, is subject to revision via collective-bargaining, although there's no indication either side has a strong interest in bringing back games on Christmas.
If there has been any research done on how the viewing public would respond to NHL games being televised on Dec. 25, the results have not been made public. One suspects that if there were compelling evidence that a major marketing opportunity is being lost by declining to play on Christmas, the league would let the NHLPA know that it's interested in revisiting the issue. The two sides do, after all, have a partnership of sorts, so the players could benefit from something that helps to enhance interest in the league and the revenues it receives.