Note: Monday, the Q&A will return to its in-season format, with installments each weekday on our premium site, PG+. PG+ includes the Penguins Plus blog, where the Q&A will be located, and numerous other exclusive blogs, chats and other features. Membership is only $3.99 per month or $36 per year.
Note II: As approximately 17,132 readers pointed out, the size of a standing-room crowd at Mellon Arena last season was overstated by 10 in both a question and a response in last week's Q&A.
Q: I know a lot may happen between now and the time Jordan Staal returns to the lineup, but given the fact that he has not spent any time this off-season working with Evgeni Malkin (or working out at all, because of his infection), would it be wise to keep Jordan with Matt Cooke and Arron Asham on the third line? Obviously, there will be a lot to consider: Injuries, development of chemistry, between Malkin and his current linemates, overall play, etc.
Dave Lapic, Washington, D.C.
MOLINARI: The key point you raise is that much can happen between now and when Staal is ready to return to the lineup. That figures to happen a number of weeks from now, although no one has publicly targeted a date for him to resume playing. Things like injuries, trades and demotions all could have an impact on how coach Dan Bylsma configures his forward lines when Staal is back.
Even if Staal would have to sit out the first two months of the season -- and no one has said anything to suggest it will take him that long to get back -- there still would be four months left before the playoffs. If the Penguins are as committed to finding out if Staal can fill a top-six role as they profess to be, there will be ample time to experiment with him alongside Malkin and, if it doesn't work out, to return Staal to his old spot on the third line or find some other niche for him.
Playing Staal between Cooke and Asham is an intriguing idea, but so is using Max Talbot in the middle of that unit. Talbot doesn't have Staal's size and overall game, but he's reliable at both ends and has a knack for annoying opponents. Put him with Cooke and Asham, and guys on other teams might be hard-pressed to decide which of those three they would like most to knock out of the game (to put it delicately).
Q: Is there anything that separates the new arena from all the other new arenas in the league? I'm not asking about concessions and flashing lights, although I hope they didn't bring the stupid goal horn with them. (They should go back to the old siren). To me, all the new arenas seem the same. Lower bowl, boxes, upper bowl. Anything stand out?
Tibor Cincala, New York City
MOLINARI: Well, the Consol Energy Center certainly is an upgrade over the Civic Arena, in just about every regard, and the time Penguins officials spent touring other venues certainly seems to have been well spent, because this building has incorporated some of the best features of those facilities.
However, the days when arenas like the Forum in Montreal, Chicago Stadium and the Boston Garden had character and qualities like no other probably are over. Speaking without benefit of a background in architecture or building design, it seems that there are only so many things that can be done to a multi-purpose arena like the CEC.
Q: With the talk of team being more energized after a slightly longer off-season, how much extra ice time did Malkin log with Russia when he left after the season ended to take part in (the world championships)? Do you expect this to slow him down toward playoff time?
MOLINARI: According to the International Ice Hockey Federation's website, Malkin logged 93 minutes, 25 seconds of ice time during five appearances for Russia during this spring's world championships. There's absolutely no reason to believe those games should have any impact on how he performs this season.
Q: I've wondered now for a couple of months (about Alexei) Ponikarovsky's role last year and why he was so ineffective. At the end, I read nowhere that anyone asked either him or management the hard question on what exactly happened to him. Was he hurt? Was he lazy? Was he angry? His skills seemed to leave him overnight. I saw the picture of him sitting on the locker room bench at the end of the Montreal series with his head in his hands and wondered just what he was thinking. Do you know a specific reason?
Julie, North Hills
MOLINARI: Actually, that question was put to Ponikarovsky and members of the front office many times, and by many reporters. The fact that you never heard a satisfactory response/explanation reflects the fact that one never was given, perhaps because it doesn't exist.
Indeed, when general manager Ray Shero received his new contract recently, he pointed to the acquisition of Ponikarovsky as an example of a trade that didn't work out as expected, but said he remained baffled by why that was the case.
On paper, Ponikarovsky was the best available fit for what the Penguins were seeking -- a top-six winger who could score at a 25- or 30-goal pace -- at the trade deadline. When he arrived, he worked hard, seemed to get along very well with his teammates and others in the organization and was given every opportunity to succeed.
He also was an unmitigated flop, which is why the Penguins didn't make a major effort to re-sign him. Ponikarovsky ultimately accepted a contract from Los Angeles.