Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari
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Q: Is Evgeni Malkin hurt? He doesn't appear to be charging the net as he has in past games, and has not been bending over that much to chase the puck. It almost looks as though his back is hurting him.
Mel Winkelvoss, Washington, D.C.
MOLINARI: If Malkin is injured, no one is letting on, but that isn't unusual during the playoffs. Unless a player is hurt so severely that he will miss an extended period, you generally don't hear until the team's season is over that Player A had been playing with compound fractures in both legs for the previous five weeks, or that Player B is going to need surgery to reattach the finger that was chopped off by a slash early in Round 1.
Coincidentally or otherwise, however, Malkin, has not been the same since Philadelphia center Mike Richards put a crushing hit on him during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final (seconds before Malkin scored his shorthanded, slapshot goal). It could be that Malkin's explanation that his problem has been fatigue is true; the suspicion here, though, is that the hit by Richards did some kind of damage that led to a striking decline in Malkin's performance level.
The encouraging thing for the Penguins is that Malkin was more of a factor in Game 3 against Detroit than he had been for the previous couple of weeks. Getting a solid, or better, performance from him almost certainly will be critical if they are to have any real chance of upsetting the Red Wings.
Q: Why are the "C" and "A"s on the opposite side on the Detroit jerseys? I thought they were supposed to be on the player's left side.
Susan Smiley, Washington, Pa.
MOLINARI: The letter that designates a player as captain or alternate captain of his team generally is worn on the left side of the sweater, but while NHL rules specify that the letter must be approximately three inches high and a contrasting color, it does not address location. The letters, according Rules 6.1 and 6.2, need only to be "in a conspicuous spot on the front" of the players' sweaters.
Q: Early in the year, despite a bit of national buzz, you contended the team was still a year or two away from being ready for a serious run at the Stanley Cup. When do you think they turned the corner from a talented young team to a true contender?
Steve Leonhardt, Los Angeles
MOLINARI: Whether they're a "true contender" probably was the subject of considerable debate after the way Games 1 and 2 against Detroit played out, but the Penguins' surge through the Eastern Conference makes it reasonable to conclude that they are, at the very least, one of the league's better teams at this point.
The pivotal moment occurred when general manager Ray Shero made his moves at the trade deadline. In addition to lacking experience among their core players (which there is no way to rush), the Penguins had gone through the season with a glaring need for a veteran, physical defenseman and at least one goal-scoring winger to play with Sidney Crosby. Acquiring Hal Gill and Marian Hossa addressed those needs and, as has been noted in this space numerous times, gave the Penguins as good a chance as anyone to come out of the East. (Turned out to be a better one than anyone else, actually.)
The reservations about surrendering the assets they gave up in the Hossa trade have been laid out in Post-Gazette stories and the Q&A multiple times, along with the belief that Shero's gamble would be validated only if the Penguins won the Cup or re-signed Hossa. While the latter appears to be unlikely, the former obviously remains a possibility.
Whether they would have been better positioned for a Cup run in a year or two never will be known, because the market value of a lot of guys who will be free agents this summer will rise because of their strong performances in the playoffs. That means the Penguins might well lose more significant personnel than they would have if they hadn't made the deadline deals and thus, had been eliminated from the Cup chase before this.
All of that said, the moderator of this forum definitely underestimated the poise and focus with which some of the Penguins' younger core players would perform during the playoffs, and did not envision Marc-Andre Fleury taking the dramatic steps forward that he has after missing so much time with a high ankle sprain.
That is just one of many things that have broken the Penguins' way during the past few months -- Crosby, for example, has avoided a major recurrence of his ankle problem -- but it's taken a lot more than good fortune to get the Penguins to within three victories of a championship.
First Published May 30, 2008 12:00 am