Should the Penguins try new shootout guys?
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Q: What do you think about the shootout participants? It seems as though everyone has figured out Kris Letang is going to try to go backhand, top-shelf, and it also seems that Sidney Crosby hasn't scored on a shootout since the outdoor game last season. Do you think the Pens should maybe try to concentrate more on those, especially now that we blow third-period leads so often?
MOLINARI: If the Penguins continue to make a habit of letting third-period leads slip away, it's possible that nothing they'll be able to do during shootouts will be enough to compensate. And while there's no point in panicking when, after their game in San Jose last night, they still have 72 remaining, squandering late-game advantages, even this early in the season, is a trend that can't be allowed to take root.
Letang, who was extremely successful in shootouts last season, seems to understand that opposing goaltenders have caught on to the move of which he is so fond, and he figures to mothball that one for a while. It's a nice move and one that obviously can be effective, but when an NHL goaltender has a good idea of what kind of shot he's going to face, chances are he's going to stop it.
Crosby's all-time record in shootouts going into last night's game was 9-for-30, including 0-for-2 this season. He has experienced some extended dry spells on shootouts at various points in his career, but when a player is as competitive and skilled as he is, the thinking here is that he deserves to remain in the rotation.
Still, given that Penguins shooters were 2-for-8 in their first two shootouts this season, tinkering with the top end of the rotation (Letang, Petr Sykora, Crosby, who combined to go 1-for-6 in those games) wouldn't be entirely unreasonable. If coach Michel Therrien elects to do that, Miroslav Satan probably deserves strong consideration, even though he failed to score during the shootout in Boston Oct. 20, and if Therrien wants to catch the other team a bit off-guard, giving rookie defenseman Alex Goligoski a chance might not be the worst idea because of his excellent hands, skills and instincts.
No matter what their uninspired performances during the first two shootouts of 2008-09 might suggest, the Penguins do not ignore that aspect of the game. They usually have a shootout-style competition, with everyone on the team participating, at the end of practice once or twice a week. That not only gives the shooters an opportunity to experiment with new moves or shots, but exposes the goaltenders to a generous sampling of what they might face when the one-on-one results really count.
Q: A lot can happen between now and the trade deadline; we saw that last year with this team. That said, will the Penguins be active again this season? If so, aside from Evgeni Malkin, Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury, who is the player the Pens can least afford to lose?
Shawn David, Hopewell
MOLINARI: Forget the trade deadline; a lot can happen between now and this time tomorrow that could affect personnel decisions made by the front office. A team's needs can change by the day -- and can be addressed at any time except during the holiday trade freeze in December -- so guessing what, if anything, the Penguins might be seeking as the March 4 trade deadline approaches is pretty much pointless.
Similarly, developments like injuries, slumps or unexpectedly productive performances can have a major impact on what a team is willing to give up in a trade; what seems like a position of strength and depth -- and thus, a possible source of trade fodder -- can look a lot different if a prominent player is hurt, or if a player or two who works there is injured or struggling.
With all of those caveats -- and probably a few others -- the thinking here is that, with the exception of the players you listed, the guy whose departure at the deadline might have the greatest short-term impact on the Penguins probably would be Sergei Gonchar. Given that his contract expires after next season, he doesn't necessarily have a place in the team's long-range plans, but Gonchar was one of the better defensemen in the league last season, and can have more of an impact in both ends of the ice during the stretch drive and playoffs than anyone else on their blue line.
If management believes the Penguins are capable of going on any sort of significant playoff run next spring, it's hard to imagine a scenario under which Gonchar would be dealt. If, however, a decision would be made to focus more on the future in terms of years, not months, Ryan Whitney probably is the one they could least afford to trade. A mostly disappointing performance last season aside -- the foot surgery from which he now is recovering presumably has corrected the problem that contributed to his showing in 2007-08 -- Whitney has outstanding offensive skills and the size, if not necessarily the temperament, to be a presence in the defensive zone. And to eventually succeed Gonchar as the cornerstone of the defense.
First Published October 29, 2008 12:00 am