Does Gonchar have to be on the power play?
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Q: Is it really necessary to use Sergei Gonchar on the penalty kill? He is clearly a step slower than in last year's playoffs, so why do they insist on wearing him out on the penalty-kill when the rest of the defense corps is more than capable of handling the duties?
Chris, North Hills
MOLINARI: Gonchar is the Penguins' best defenseman, so it's no surprise that they use him in every situation -- he's averaging a team-high 27 minutes, 12 seconds of ice time in these playoffs -- although Rob Scuderi (3:19) and Hal Gill (2:41) get more shorthanded work per game than Gonchar (2:13).
Gonchar's defense partner, Brooks Orpik (2:07), handles basically the same amount of shorthanded duty, but Mark Eaton (1:33) is treated as almost a spare part in the penalty-killing mix and Kris Letang (5 seconds per game) is not involved at all.
Killing penalties is demanding work, and Gonchar undoubtedly would benefit from conserving the energy he expends doing that. The thinking here is that Eaton is capable of taking on a larger share of the shorthanded chores -- especially with the way he's been playing lately -- but the coaching staff still seems to feel that Gonchar's experience and skill level make him indispensable for that duty.
Also, the defensemen usually are deployed in their normal pairings when the Penguins are shorthanded and, as noted above, Letang, who is Eaton's partner, doesn't make it on to the ice much when they are down a man.
Q: As a Pens fan living in Washington, I was shocked to see so many Caps fans at the Igloo (for Game 3). (Capitals owner Ted Leonis) has instituted a rule whereby only those with District of Columbia, Virginia or Maryland zip codes can buy tickets (to games at the Verizon Center). He knows how well the Pens travel. Do you know if the Pens' ticket office is doing the same? If not, I would hope they would, or start it for game 4.
Jason Ranone, Arlington, Va.
MOLINARI: The Capitals have spent a lot of time and energy over the years trying to devise ways to keep Penguins fans, as well as those from a number of other clubs, out of their home rink, often with results that were mixed, at best. (Doing it by putting together a talented, entertaining team that might expand their own fan base, or at least convince some front-runners to make a financial commitment in the form of ticket purchases, apparently is a radical notion that didn't get serious consideration from management until the past few years.) It's hard to say how it looked or sounded on TV, but compared to the turnout of Penguins fans for games in Washington -- despite the Capitals' high-tech efforts to keep them out -- the Capitals fans at Game 3 looked like they could have carpooled to the game.
One team official estimated there were about 100, and that seems like a pretty good guess. There was a four-row block of red shirts in one end zone and other Capitals supporters scattered around the building, but unlike a lot of games in Washington over the years, there wasn't any doubt about which was the home team.
The Penguins have a season-ticket waiting list that, at last check, had broached the 2,500 mark -- none of whom appear to be interested simply so they could get tickets to the two Washington games every winter -- and if the team didn't set aside about 2,000 tickets for single-game sales, the only way fans of visiting teams would make it into the building would be via the resale market.
Making those single-game seats available to anyone, regardless of zip or area code, undoubtedly makes it possible for at least a few fans of other teams to obtain tickets for games at Mellon Arena at face value -- maybe one of the technical whizzes whose job includes concocting ways to keep Penguins fans out of the Verizon Center could devise a computer program that would allow the Capitals to lock up an inordinate number of those single-game seats -- but there's no reason to think the Penguins are going to re-think that policy. Or that they should.
It's a well-conceived, long-term strategy designed to cultivate the next generation of fans. If giving younger people, who can't necessarily afford season tickets now but will be able to in the future, a chance to buy tickets to individual games means that some Capitals or Philadelphia or Detroit fans get into the building, that's a tradeoff worth making.
First Published May 8, 2009 12:00 am