Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari
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Q: At what point does letting Marc-Andre Fleury mature become too much of a cost this season? I know our long-term goals should always outweigh the short term, but this is playoff hockey. Pulling Fleury after (Ottawa's fourth goal in Game 1) could've changed the outcome of the game; pulling him after goal No. 6 was pointless. Will they give Fleury that much latitude the rest of this series? Do you think we'll see Jocelyn Thibault over the weekend?
Steve, McKees Rocks
MOLINARI: Absolutely, all responsibility for everything associated with the embarrassment that was Game 1 of the Penguins' series with the Senators should be heaped on Fleury. Why, if only coach Michel Therrien had yanked him after it became 4-1, there's no way Ottawa would have scored on the two-on-zero break that led to the fifth goal or the deflection that closed out its scoring. It's hard to think of any goalie in the world -- except Fleury, of course -- who wouldn't have stopped those with ease, even while blindfolded.
Certainly, there was no reason to believe Fleury would have turned aside the one -- yes, one -- shot Thibault faced after taking over for him midway through the third period. Come to think of it, simply sticking Fleury at the far end of the bench for the rest of the series isn't nearly enough. The Penguins should suspend him immediately, try to trade him while they still can get something for him and send someone to his house to kick his dog.
Seriously, anyone who scapegoats Fleury for the Penguins' loss in the series opener is being terribly myopic. He is not exempt from some of the blame -- certainly, no one else can be held accountable for Fleury losing his balance a second or two before Andrej Mezsaros scored the Senators' first goal -- but he had 18 teammates who had at least as much, and in most cases more, to do with the outcome. (Don't overlook the role the Senators played, too. They produced an extremely focused, intense effort that the Penguins did not come remotely close to matching.)
And, for what it's worth, pulling Fleury after Ottawa made it 6-1 was not pointless, because it was not done to alter the outcome of Game 1; the Senators had that one all but officially wrapped up by the middle of the first period. Fleury was taken out of the game to spare him any additional psychological and/or physical damage caused by playing behind a team whose defensive play had been, to be charitable, porous to that point. Whether some people like it or not, Fleury is the Penguins' go-to goalie, and he's the one they will continue to count on to get them into the second round.
Frankly, the Penguins probably could feel a bit better about themselves if the events of Game 1 could have been pinned on one guy, whether it was Fleury or Sidney Crosby or Ryan Whitney or whoever. The troubling reality is that, as a group, they didn't raise their games to anywhere near the level Ottawa reached. If that would happen to develop into a trend -- and it's very risky to take the outcome of one game in a best-of-seven and use it to project how the rest of the series will play out -- league officials might be tempted to involve hockey's version of a 10-run rule by sometime early in Game 4.
Q: For some reason, the Pens seem to really ruffle Bryan Murray's feathers. He seems to have always have a comment about one player or another. Do you feel that his obvious agitation could be detrimental to himself and the Senators?
Skyla, Altus, Okla.
MOLINARI: Murray never has been shy about going public with his thoughts, and it isn't a reach to suggest that he usually has a reason for saying what he does.
For example, when he accused Crosby of using coarse language while speaking to him during a game last month -- and who ever would have guessed that anyone would resort to verbal crudeness on the ice? -- it came across as a rather transparent attempt to get inside Crosby's head, in the event the Penguins and Senators met in the playoffs.
And when Murray offered up his peculiar comments about "however we're treated, we'll treat the other team," earlier this week, it was a pretty obvious effort to deflect some of pre-series heat away from his team, which already had been subjected to several days of reminders about its history of playoff flops.
That Murray's remark seems to have no basis in reality -- it's inconceivable that Penguins general manager Ray Shero would indulge in low-class gamesmanship like giving visiting teams inconvenient ice times for their practices -- was pretty much beside the point. He succeeded, at least briefly, in giving people in Ottawa something besides the Senators' chronic postseason disappointments to discuss.
And if this series turns in the Penguins' favor at some point, no one should be surprised if Murray trots out another surprising statement for public consumption. (Then again, perhaps he's realized that Therrien is pretty adept at such matters, too, as evidenced by how he used Murray's "however we're treated" remark to remind everyone within earshot of the pressure the Senators had to be feeling because of their legacy of playoff failures.)
Q: Why doesn't the NHL use head-to-head competition as the first tiebreaker? Not that I think it matters for the Penguins-Senators series, but that seems to be yet another quirk of the NHL that makes casual fans (rightly) criticize the league.
Paul, Washington, D.C.
MOLINARI: More than a few Q&A readers brought up this grievous violation of all things honorable and fair; one suspects most would not have been nearly so outraged if that tiebreaker had worked to the Penguins' advantage and they had gotten home-ice advantage against the Senators.
Clearly, a case can be made that the results of games teams play against each other are the most reasonable way to determine which is better, and thus deserves an edge in the event of a tie. Conversely, one can argue that what a team does over the course of 82 games provide a more accurate picture of its pedigree than a snapshot taken from four (or eight) games.
The bottom line is that no system will satisfy everyone, but all 30 clubs were aware before the season of the tiebreaking procedures the league uses. If enough share the feeling that the current way of resolving ties is not equitable, they probably could bring about a change. Don't hold your breath, though.
Q: Looking at the (Penguins' regular-season) numbers, one struck me above all others -- 202, the number of minutes Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Mark Recchi spent in the penalty box. When your leading scorers are responsible for more than a penalty and a half a game, that's a problem. Why the lack of discipline? Players of this skill level do not need to be taking so many penalties.
Bill Agnew, Denver
MOLINARI: Unfortunately, the moderator of this forum does not have an infraction-by-infraction breakdown of the penalties assessed to those players -- or any others, for that matter -- but simply because a guy is capable of putting up points does not mean he should be a Lady Byng candidate.
Also, bear in mind that none of those three qualifies as a perimeter player who goes out of his way to avoid contact and traffic, and all log considerable ice time. Really, if the penalty minutes those three accumulated during the regular season qualifies as a major problem for the Penguins -- and the events of Game 1 suggest there are a few more pressing concerns -- it might be a good time to start working on the finer points of that parade route.
Q: Sidney Crosby is not killing penalties. I don't expect a change this year, but with the skills that this guy has, how can they not give him some ice time on the penalty-kill? If Jordan Stall can perform the way he has, don't you think Sidney can handle this situation? Imagine the added goal scoring possibilities. Mario Lemieux always killed penalties and played the full power play. Do you see this kind of use of Sid in the future?
Derrick McEachern, Wolfville, Nova Scotia
MOLINARI: The issue is not whether Crosby could handle a penalty-killing role; it's hard to imagine any hockey-related duty -- up to and including tending goal -- that he couldn't execute quite effectively.
Therrien, though, has said repeatedly that, at least for now, he will avoid using Crosby to kill penalties because he wants him to be able to devote all of his energies to producing offensively. Given that the Penguins have come up with a couple of effective penalty-killing tandems -- Staal and Ryan Malone, Maxime Talbot and Colby Armstrong -- there really is no need to add that duty to Crosby's job description.
There is at least one other reason -- one never cited by Therrien, or anyone else -- why keeping Crosby out of shorthanded situations isn't such a bad idea: Blocking shots is a major part of that work, and losing Crosby for several weeks while he recovers from a broken foot would more than offset any advantage gained by using him as a penalty-killer.
Q: These past six months have been mind-boggling. Anyone who would have predicted in October that the Pens would be battling for home ice in the first round, their arena deal would be finalized, Marc-Andre Fleury would win 40 games and their 18-year-old rookie would be on the verge of a 30-goal season may well have predicted that the Pirates would win the World Series.
Greg Thompson, Crofton, Md.
MOLINARI: Well, maybe that the Pirates would have a .500 record, anyway.
Your point is well-taken, though. This has been an extraordinary season for the Penguins, in many ways. No one should be surprised that they were significantly improved from last season; just about everyone who pays attention predicted as much. However, very few people, if any, envisioned a 47-point jump. Had they gone from 58 to 75 or 80 it would have been a major step forward. Making it all the way to 105 was an extraordinary accomplishment.
If there is a downside to what happened on the ice -- there's absolutely no reasonable negative associated with the city getting a new multi-purpose arena -- it's that it might have created unrealistic expectations for the playoffs.
Last fall, most Penguins partisans would have been ecstatic to have their team qualify for postseason play. After their incredible regular season, though, many seem to be counting on a lengthy run this spring, and might even view 2006-07 as something of a disappointment if that doesn't happen. Such thinking not only doesn't do justice to what the Penguins achieved, but ignores the quality of the team they're facing in Round 1. Ottawa is experienced, talented, deep and a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, all points reinforced by its performance in the series opener.
Q: Some teams, including Buffalo, have third jerseys right now that pay homage to that team's past. Even the Baby Pens have a third jersey that (honors) Pittsburgh's past. Will we ever see a third jersey for the Pens that will see them wear the blue again?
David King, Orlando, Fla.
MOLINARI: Not anytime soon, if ever. There will be no third jerseys next season because all clubs will introduce the "streamlined" uniforms that debuted at the All-Star Game in January.
First Published April 12, 2007 4:27 pm