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Question: I'm curious as to what percentage of writers to the Q&A are supporters of Marc-Andre Fleury and what percentage are "bashers," for a lack of a better term.
Joe, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada:
MOLINARI: There isn't a formal tabulation but, all told, Q&A submissions -- which, in the case of Fleury, tend to focus more on opinions than questions -- probably run about 50-50 between those who profess unwavering faith in Fleury and those who don't see how a team could possibly believe that it could win a beer league tournament, let alone a Stanley Cup, with him in goal.
There are surprisingly few who stake out a position in the middle. Who suggest, for example, that while Fleury already has proven that he's capable of backstopping a team to a championship, he has to perform closer to his potential more consistently than he has for much of this season.
One trend that is clear is that the tone of submissions concerning Fleury are directly related to his most recent performance. When he plays the way he did during a 2-0 victory in Montreal in Game 3 last Tuesday or in the 2-1 victory Saturday night at Mellon Arena, his backers come out in force. When he has a game like the 3-2 loss in Game 4, when he allowed at least one goal that absolutely should not have gone in and another that seemed stoppable, those who feel the Penguins would be better off with anyone other than Fleury are not shy about making their feelings known.
Question: If Montreal fans are so hockey-knowledgeable, why does the entire Bell Centre erupt with boos when a Canadiens player falls down and no penalty is called?
Jeff Snyder, Pittsburgh
MOLINARI: "Knowledgeable" shouldn't be confused with "objective."
While it's always dangerous to generalize -- you probably could find a fan at the Bell Centre who doesn't have the first clue about anything pertaining to the game, and someone in the least hockey-oriented market in the league who appreciates its nuances more than 99 percent of people who consider themselves lifelong fanatics -- fans in Montreal really do understand and appreciate the game as well, or better, than those in just about any other city.
That doesn't mean they're going to be clinical while watching games, however. Yes, they might recognize and respect a particular play by a visiting player, even if they don't always express it, but as a rule, their primary interest is in seeing the Canadiens win, just as Penguins partisans want to see their team succeed.
Question: Is this series haunting you with flashbacks to the Pens-New York Islanders 1993 series as much as it is me? I can't tell if that is Jaroslav Halak or Glenn Healy in goal for the Habs.
Jim Barger, Lynchburg, Va.
MOLINARI: What haunts hockey writers most is the threat of having playoff games stretch into multiple overtimes, but there certainly is a lot about the Montreal series than kindles memories of that one against the Islanders, which culminated in the most stunning upset loss in franchise history.
For those who might not remember -- or who might not have been born -- the Penguins were coming off back-to-back Cups and a 119-point regular season that remains the finest in team history, and were prohibitive favorites to knock off New York and advance to the conference final for the third year in a row.
But Healy played at, or above, the level Halak has reached during the current series against the Penguins, and Darius Kasparaitis made life miserable for Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, much as Hal Gill has been doing to Sidney Crosby for the past week or so. What's more, the Islanders were opportunistic on offense, much as the Canadiens have been throughout the second round.
New York ended up winning Game 7 on an overtime goal by David Volek, but promptly was dispatched by Montreal in the next round. The Canadiens went on to beat Los Angeles in the Cup final to earn their most recent title, and the Penguins didn't get the third championship that had seemed so likely in the spring of 1993 until last June.