Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari
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Q: Is there enough time before the playoffs start, given all their injuries the last few months, for Sidney Crosby and Marian Hossa to get comfortable on the same line and produce the way they are expected to? In your opinion, would playing well together have any sway on Hossa's attitude toward staying?
Steve Moore, Boone, Iowa
MOLINARI: As he prepared to return from the high ankle sprain that forced him to sit out a third of the season, Crosby expressed optimism that he and Hossa would jell almost instantly, but it really didn't work out that way.
For most of their limited time together, Crosby and Hossa -- who was acquired at the Feb. 26 trade deadline with the idea that he'd be the big-time goal-scorer Crosby hadn't had as a linemate to that point of his career -- have had most of their success because of their exceptional skill levels, not because of any special chemistry they developed.
That still could happen at any time, of course -- and if those two really click, things could get quite miserable for anyone matched against the Penguins this spring, given the way the Ryan Malone-Evgeni Malkin-Petr Sykora unit has meshed -- but it really hasn't yet. The Penguins apparently aren't terribly concerned about that, however, since Crosby was a healthy scratch for the regular-season finale in Philadelphia yesterday.
As for Hossa's future, the moderator of this forum still doesn't have enough insight on him to offer an educated guess about which factors will shape his decision about where to play in coming seasons, but in general, unrestricted free agents tend to put their primary emphasis on making the most money possible. Having a world-class linemate or playing for a team with the chance to be a perennial contender might be a good tiebreaker if a player has multiple, roughly equal, offers from which to pick, but the Penguins would be deluding themselves if they go into negotiations with the idea that any of their free agents will be willing to accept a significant "hometown discount" to stay here. That's not out of the question, but years of precedent suggest it isn't likely, either.
Q: Given that maybe guys on the top three lines can grow playoff beards, doesn't this seem to paint an ominous postseason picture?
Sam Karp, Colorado Springs, Colo.
MOLINARI: The issue, of course, is not actually how many of the Penguins can grow beards, but what the number who can says about the ages -- and thus, limited experience -- of a lot of players who will fill key roles during the playoffs.
For much of the team -- including the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Whitney, Jordan Staal and Brooks Orpik, among others -- their playoff experience at this level consists of five games against Ottawa in the opening round a year ago. The Penguins claim to have learned a lot of valuable lessons during that brief series, but that doesn't alter the reality that they have a lot of young players who will be counted on to make critical contributions if they are to enjoy a significant playoff run.
The Penguins can be optimistic about how those players, and others, will perform during the post-season because of the way most elevated their play when compelled to do so during the regular season, but surviving a best-of-seven isn't the same as succeeding over 82 games.
One encouraging reality for the Penguins: Of all the things Mario Lemieux could do, growing a decent playoff beard was nowhere on the list. By the end of the Penguins' Stanley Cup runs in 1992 and 1992, what passed for his beard looked as if it could be easily removed with a soapy washcloth and a little vigorous rubbing. That didn't prevent him from earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP both times.
First Published April 7, 2008 12:00 am