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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

Crash the Net is a weekly web feature appearing as a written column AND as a podcast on  Click here to submit a question.


QUESTION: I was wondering what the progress is of Jordan Staal's contract negotations? Will he play in the NHL this season?

-Gregory Jedinak of Bethlehem, PA

BOB GROVE: Staal's agent and the Penguins aren't likely to enter into negotiations until it is established that the player has a legitimate shot to make the NHL roster. That won't be determined until camp opens and Staal earns playing time in preseason games. There's no need for the Penguins to rush Staal into the NHL; however, if he earns a shot, then he should be given the chance. I still believe Staal is more likely to return to Peterborough this season, but you cannot rule out his making the team.

QUESTION: Last year the Penguins ended the season with a large majority of their defensemen being left-handed. Is this a big enough problem that it may force them to attempt to sign or even trade for a small market right-handed defensemen?

-Andrew Williams of Ligonier, Pennsylvania

BOB GROVE: It's probably not such a problem that the Penguins feel forced to acquire another defenseman simply because he's a right-handed shot, but this does bear watching as the coaching staff evaluates the roster through camp and gets a read on who can best play the right side.

It's obviously easier for a right-handed defenseman to play the right side. He can more easily make clearing attempts using the glass on his forehand, and he doesn't have to turn his body to accept the puck when a teammate advances it along the boards in his own zone. But more than a few defensemen around the NHL play the "off" side, many overcoming the above challenges by being smart, creative and quick.

It's highly unusual, but the Penguins right now have only three right-handed shooting defensemen in their organization: Matt Carkner, Wade Skolney and Micki Dupont, all signed as free agents this summer.

QUESTION: With Evgeni Malkin likely to be in the lineup this year, what do you see the Penguins powerplay looking like? Do you think Michel Therrien will use Crosby and Malkin together? If so, do you play Malkin on the point?

-Bob Anderson of Falls Creek

BOB GROVE: If everything works out with Malkin, he is likely to see plenty of time on the first power play unit with Crosby. I don't know if Malkin has ever played the point before, but that's a difficult place to put a forward -- let alone a rookie who has played very few games on the smaller rinks. As for the rest of the first unit, that of course will develop as the preseason schedule advances. But with Recchi, LeClair, Armstrong, Malone and Ekman, there are plenty of options up front for Michel Therrien. Let's not forget, too, that Ekman often played the point in San Jose. My guess right now on the first unit would be Ekman and Gonchar on the points, with Crosby, Malkin and Malone up front.

QUESTION: Do you think Noah Welch is a lock to make the team this year knowing that we still have Cairns, Melichar and Scuderi all signed to contracts?

-Mike in Harrison City

BOB GROVE: I know a lot of people have Welch written into the opening night lineup, but I wouldn't call him a lock. He still needs to have a strong camp and play well in preseason games -- the same test all young players face if they want to make the team to start the season. That said, Welch has all the tools to make it: he's big, skates well, plays physical and does have a heavy shot. The key for him is simple: move the puck and do everything possible to keep it out of his own net. It would be a surprise if he's not on the roster in October, but he's hardly guaranteed a spot.

QUESTION: What does Marc-Andre Fleury have to accomplish this season to solidify his title as the Penguin's "franchise goalie"? 30 or more wins? GAA less than 2.5 and/or save % of .920 or higher?

-Aric Mayberry of Enola, PA

BOB GROVE: It doesn't come down to achieving some statistical measure. Marc-Andre Fleury is the Penguins' No. 1 goaltender as we enter camp, and if he wants to ensure that he's still their go-to guy in April, he just has to start playing and winning more consistently. It's really that simple. Make the saves you're supposed to make and a few of the ones you're not. Find a way to prevent those goals in the opening -- and closing -- minutes of games. Steal a game here or there. Fleury is a very critical part of the team's future, and he has a chance this year to play behind a team that is better defensively and more prolific offensively. It's his job to help the team translate all that into victories.

QUESTION: I hear about a website that has pictures or video of Evgeni Malkin. Do you know of this site?

-Dave in Pittsburgh

BOB GROVE: Go to and type Malkin in the search box. There's a 4:40 video of some pretty amazing plays there.

QUESTION: When does training camp start? And will it be open to public like last season?

-Steve Denny of Butler, PA

BOB GROVE: The Penguins will hold a rookie camp at Mellon Arena from Sept. 7-12, and the practice sessions on Sept. 9 and 10 will be open to the public. The Penguins' regular training camp will have players on the Mellon Arena ice Sept. 15-17, and all three days are open to the public. Starting times for open sessions at both camps will be announced soon, so check back with for more information.

Crash the Net is a weekly web feature appearing as a written column AND as a podcast on  Click here to submit a question.

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