Should Satan play on Crosby's line?
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Q: I would like to see Chris Kunitz in a checking-line role, not on the top line. Do you think Miroslav Satan has earned a shot at playing with Sidney Crosby?
Charles E. Zaleski Jr,. Lewisburg, Pa.
MOLINARI: No one -- especially Kunitz -- envisioned him going through the first two rounds of the playoffs without a goal, but he was in an 0-for-14 games slump before the Penguins faced Carolina in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final last night.
Anyone filling a top-six role has to score occasionally, particularly when playing alongside a center with Sidney Crosby's playmaking abilities, but Kunitz does enough other things well that he probably is not in danger of losing his spot anytime soon. And it's hard to imagine that he'd ever lose it to Satan, despite the latter's surprisingly strong overall play of late.
While Kunitz hasn't been scoring goals -- again, that's a critical facet of the job description for someone in his role -- it hasn't affected the other things he does to make his line effective. In fact, just a few days ago, Dan Bylsma was discussing Crosby's exceptional performance during these playoffs, and offered that, "Chris Kunitz was on the ice for a lot of that success."
That's because Kuntiz still is handling all the blue-collar elements of his job effectively. He's battling along the boards and in the corners, going hard to the net when the situation calls for it and is playing well in his own zone. None of that excuses him from his obligation to contribute a goal now and then, but it's to his credit that he hasn't allowed his inability to find the net to adversely affect the rest of his game.
If that happens at some point, Bylsma will have to give serious thought to replacing him. For now, however, it looks as if the Penguins can continue to give him time to rediscover his touch. Should he do so, it will add a dimension to an offense that already has been pretty productive during these playoffs. (It entered Game 2 averaging 3.43 goals per game, second only to Detroit's 3.69.)
Q: Am I the only one who has noticed that Marc-Andre Fleury is probably the worst puck-handling goalie in the league? I have to hold my breath every time an opposing team dumps the puck into our end because it might mean Fleury is coming out to play it. This has to be noticed by the coaching staff; my question is, why haven't they done anything about it? You'd think that Fleury would recognize this and spend his entire off-season working exclusively on handling the puck. If it were up to me, I'd chain his skates to the goal posts so he couldn't leave the crease.
Chris, Raleigh, N.C.
MOLINARI: In light of your final observation, you probably can assume that Fleury is glad you aren't on the coaching staff. So, presumably are his teammates. Odds are he'd also appreciate an opportunity to work on his tan, not just his puck skills, for a while after the season is over.
Puck-handling was one of Fleury's most glaring weaknesses when he broke into the league and, after making slow, but steady, progress over the past few years -- yes, he actually spends an awful lot of time working on it during practices -- has been guilty of some highly visible, and sometimes costly, gaffes recently. The one that led directly to Washington's first goal in Game 7 of the second round is just the most recent example, and it's understandable if fans hold their breath anytime Fleury ventures behind the goal line to play the puck.
Nonetheless, that is an important part of his responsibilities, and the Penguins aren't going to prevent him from doing it. If a goaltender doesn't go behind the net to stop the puck for his defensemen, or feed it ahead to them, there's a pretty good chance those guys will play most of the game with their faces in, if not on, the glass. Defensemen can get a lot of punishment from opponents who dump the puck into the attacking zone and go after it, especially now that their teammates aren't supposed to be able to obstruct forecheckers.
And while this might shock some people, the professionals on NHL coaching staffs and filling front-office positions actually are capable of recognizing problems with a player's game, and sometimes even manage to do so before the average message-board poster, talk-show caller or TV-watcher. The Penguins were aware of Fleury's puck-handling shortcomings long before they drafted him, and that's something position coaches have worked with him on for as long as he's been here.
He still doesn't do it as well as anyone would like, but it's not because his coaches or the people running the team didn't think it was an issue worth addressing. Or simply never noticed.
First Published May 22, 2009 12:00 am