Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari
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Q: I've been really impressed with what (little) I've seen of Georges Laraque in the first two games. I thought he had a great first shift against Carolina, then don't remember seeing him until the third period. Is there a way he could play himself into more of a role on the team? I'm not suggesting as a top-six forward, necessarily, but at least something more than cameo appearances.
Sara, San Jose, Calif.
MOLINARI: It was fairly easy to overlook -- assuming a guy who is 6 foot 3, 243 pounds can be missed -- but Laraque did have a pretty strong opening weekend, culminating in his assist on Petr Sykora's goal in the third period of the Penguins' 5-4 victory against Anaheim Saturday.
Laraque logged just 11 minutes, 59 seconds of ice time during the Penguins' first two games (only 4:55 of that against the Ducks), and it's not realistic to expect anyone to be a difference-maker when they play so little, but Laraque does have the ability to alter the course of a game with a big hit or a well-timed fight.
(Laraque's limited number of fights since being acquired from Phoenix at the trade deadline is a topic unto itself. Does he rarely drop the gloves because he's wearied of that role, and would prefer to focus his energies on becoming a better player, or because so few opponents are willing to trade punches with him? If it's the latter, give those guys credit for recognizing that hemorrhaging and needing facial reconstruction are not good things.)
Laraque might make an occasional appearance on one of the top lines -- that's the hockey equivalent of attaching a "Do Not Touch" sign to the sweater of guys like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- and coach Michel Therrien will stick him in front of the net during power plays on occasion, but Laraque seems destined to get virtually all of his work on the No. 4 line. And with the personnel the Penguins have on their top three units, odds are that group won't require treatment for exhaustion anytime soon.
Q: Does Sergei Gonchar really deserve an "A" part of the time? And sharing it with Gary Roberts? Roberts made such an impact last season, I would have given him an "A" then. Is Gonchar that much of a leader?
Joel, North Braddock
MOLINARI: Wow. Roberts made a quick and enduring impact on a lot of people after being acquired from Florida at the trade deadline, but he hardly was here long enough to have someone from the equipment staff stitch an "A" on his sweater, let alone to prove conclusively that one should be taken away from Gonchar or Mark Recchi and given to him. Roberts appeared in just 24 games, and five of those were in the playoffs.
While Gonchar is certainly not the kind of guy who's going to make a habit of screaming at teammates or kicking over tables in the locker room when things aren't going well, he is an established veteran who has the respect of the guys with whom he plays. And while having him serve as an alternate captain for home games (Roberts does it on the road) probably isn't going to have a significant impact, positive or otherwise, on the Penguins' season, it's reasonable to believe that whatever responsibility Gonchar feels to perform is enhanced by having his leadership role formalized with an "A."
First Published October 10, 2007 12:00 am