Q: I was wondering how you felt about the Dan Byslma move. It seems like some are questioning the timing. However, I believe that it provides extra motivation for both Byslma and the players, who have obviously responded so well to his coaching.
Jeremy Hustead, Ambridge, Pa.
MOLINARI: The thinking here is that removing the "interim" from Bylsma's title Tuesday won't have a significant impact, positive or negative, on anyone because it had been evident for at least a few weeks that he was the logical candidate to fill the job.
That doesn't mean general manager Ray Shero couldn't have justified putting off a decision, or at least an announcement, until sometime after the season, which had been his original plan. For that matter, there would have been nothing wrong with Shero interviewing other candidates, because having a head coach who can bring out the best in his players obviously is critical to the success of any team.
However, Bylsma's players have responded so well to him -- their 22-5-4 record since he replaced Michel Threrien is flat-out remarkable -- and there has been such a synergy develop among Bylsma, his staff and the players that it's hard to believe Shero could have turned up many guys who would be a better fit for this team, at this time.
Bylsma's enthusiasm for his work is infectious -- he often is one of the first people on the ice for practice, and doesn't just step onto the ice but charges onto it -- and the confidence he has restored inside the locker room has allowed the Penguins to become a club that no opponent should be eager to face this spring.
The only uncertainty about Bylsma is that it still isn't clear how he'll respond to significant adversity (believe it or not, the Penguins will lose consecutive games in regulation at some point during his time as coach), but it's hard to criticize a guy for being successful. After all, not losing games is the whole point, right?
Q: When are fans going to quit bashing Marc-Andre Fleury? He's had one "off" game in these playoffs, and yet you still hear people saying to get another goalie, that he's not the one.
Geoff, New York City
MOLINARI: There actually has been a decline in Fleury-bashing submissions to the Q&A lately, but a few still show up occasionally, especially if he does something that borders on the unforgivable. You know, like allowing a goal that someone thinks he was capable of preventing.
What it is about Fleury that has turned a segment, however small, of the Penguins' fan base against him isn't clear, since he's a humble, easy-going, team-oriented guy with exceptional ability, but there's no denying that some people pounce on every misstep he makes. And while he has progressed steadily since breaking into the league -- remember when he handled the puck like he was wielding a leaf rake, and relied on reflexes and sheer athleticism to stop pucks? -- Fleury never is going to attain perfection, so there probably always will be some critics who won't be satisfied.
Perhaps that will change if Fleury wins a Stanley Cup someday, but until then, those who question his value to the Penguins might want to reflect on where the team would be today without, say, his incredible toe save on Philadelphia's Jeff Carter during Game 2, the stop on Joffrey Lupul with 5 ?? minutes left in Game 6 and those 45 saves Fleury came through with to steal Game 4 at the Wachovia Center.
Goaltending is the most critical variable in any playoff series -- if the goalie doesn't play well, it generally doesn't matter what the 18 skaters are doing -- and it's always possible that Fleury will stumble, whether it's in Round 2 against Washington or some future opponent, if the Penguins survive the series with the Capitals. But if how Fleury is going to perform is the biggest cause for concern about them at this point, the Penguins are in awfully good shape.