Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari
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Q: I'm a little concerned about Michel Therrien's decision to pack the No. 1 power-play unit with the Pens' top players, while leaving sniper Petr Sykora out of the mix. Wouldn't it make more sense to keep the Pascal Dupuis-Sidney Crosby-Marian Hossa and Ryan Malone-Evgeni Malkin-Sykora lines intact, and start the power-play with the freshest line?
Rick Buker, Pennsbury Village
MOLINARI: Your take certainly reflects the thinking here.
As has been mentioned in this space a number of times, the key to a productive power play is not simply assembling the most pure talent possible, but to put together units of players with complementary skills. The line combinations you list certainly meet that criterion, and the Penguins have enough defensemen with good offensive skills to be able to come up with two sets of point men to play with those units.
If there are concerns about egos being bruised because a particular player isn't on the "No. 1" power play, the simple solution to that is to construct two basically equal units -- something the Penguins have the personnel to do -- and to dispatch whichever is more rested (or has been more effective) at a particular point in the game.
It all seems so obvious that one has to wonder if the entire issue isn't being over-thought by the decision-makers, complicating a situation that really doesn't have to be. It was encouraging, though, to see Therrien send out the Malkin line during a power play late in regulation of the Penguins' 2-1 loss at Madison square Garden Monday, then follow that up by deploying a unit with Crosby, Hossa and Jordan Staal up front.
Q: I know Jaromir Jagr gets booed every time he touches the puck when playing at the Mellon Arena, but I wonder if the poor treatment he receives by some Penguin fans has affected his personal relationship with Mario Lemieux?
Michael M. Bierce, Pittsburgh
MOLINARI: There certainly isn't any indication that it affects the relationship between Lemieux and Jagr -- really, there's no reason the hostility of a segment of the Mellon Arena crowd should -- and a case could be made that there isn't really a significant relationship to damage.
It's not that there's any acrimony between Lemieux and Jagr; just that they aren't as close as Lemieux and some of his former teammates. From all reports, interaction between the two always is cordial and they routinely shake hands and share a little small talk when they cross paths. It is not as if, however, Jagr routinely spends Christmas at the Lemieux residence, or invites Lemieux to tag along when he ventures west to do his share to keep the Las Vegas economy stimulated.
Q: How is Mark Eaton doing in his rehab, is he a free agent and how does he figure in the future of the team?
T.K., Raleigh, N.C.
MOLINARI: Eaton's recovery from having his knee surgically reconstructed seems to be proceeding on schedule, but the prognosis -- that he is a long shot to play again before next season -- hasn't changed significantly. (Eaton did go for a light skate after the Penguins had a team photo taken yesterday and noted that he still has an outside chance of participating in the Stanley Cup playoffs, if the Penguins go on a run that carries them beyond mid-May.)
Where Eaton will be playing in 2008-09 isn't clear; he hasn't discussed a new contract with the Penguins yet and might well be another player for whom they seek a less expensive replacement during the summer. They certainly have to be satisfied with Eaton's on-ice work during his time here -- he is an excellent shot-blocker and penalty-killer, extremely reliable and brought out the best in Sergei Gonchar when they were partners -- but injuries limited him to just 71 appearances over two seasons. That's not much of a return on the $3.2 million investment the Penguins made in him as a free agent in 2006.
Eaton will be an unrestricted free agent again this summer, eligible to sign wherever he wishes. It's fairly evident that he would like to remain with the Penguins, and the relationship has appeared to be mutually beneficial when he's been healthy, but the belief here is that the Penguins will shop for a replacement who is a bit more durable and a bit less pricey, unless Eaton is willing to accept a significant reduction in pay.
First Published April 2, 2008 12:00 am