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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: In my opinion there are a lot of questions concerning Jocelyn Thibault such as his health and consistency. Also, could you please explain which goalies will be playing where (I see 8 of them total in the system)?

-Jared in Bridgeville

BOB GROVE: We've gotten a lot of mail recently about Jocelyn Thibault. Thibault enters training camp as the backup to Marc-Andre Fleury, but he does have a lot of questions to answer. Primary among those is whether he is healthy. He had hip surgery in November 2003, missing 60 games in his last season with Chicago. He then had surgery to replace torn cartilage in his left hip last January and wound up playing only 16 games last season, going 1-9-3 with a 4.46 goals-against average and an .876 save percentage -- not good numbers.

But let's be fair -- Thibault was also playing behind a team that struggled over the first half of the season, making it difficult for any goaltender trying to rediscover his form. Thibault is just 31 years old, so he has a few years ahead of him if he can stay healthy and get back to playing the way he played over his first 11 NHL seasons. The Penguins obviously believe he can do that. Looking at the bright side, while he's had to rehab from two surgeries he hasn't been worn down by the grind of a full NHL season now for three years -- he's played only 30 games over the last 40 months.

We all know that things can change in a hurry during training camp and the preseason, and that players have to earn their playing time. That said, however,it would be expected that Dany Sabourin and newly-signed Andrew Penner will handle the goaltending chores in Wilkes-Barre this season, with Patrick Ehelechner trying to earn some playing time, too.

In the system, David Brown (eighth round, 2004) will be a senior at Notre Dame this season; Bobby Goepfert (sixth round, 2002) will be a senior at St. Cloud State; and Chad Johnson (fifth round, 2006) will be a sophomore at Alaska-Fairbanks of the CCHA.

QUESTION: What is the jersey brand name the Penguins use? Is it CCM or Reebok?

-Ashleigh in Sault Ste Marie

BOB GROVE: Last season was Reebok's first as official supplier of sweaters to all NHL teams. Theirs is a multi-year deal with the NHL, so the Penguins and all teams will again be wearing Reebok this season.

QUESTION: What do you think the reason was for Sergei Gonchar not playing to his potential last season? Was it confidence, rust, or from playing on a bad team?

-Steve Yurkovac in Moon, PA

BOB GROVE: It should be an interesting October for Gonchar, who does not have a track record of roaring out of the gate and certainly struggled for most of the first half of last season. In addition to his history, I think Gonchar was hurt by the struggles of the team overall, a slow adjustment to the new rules standards and what he described as less structure under Ed Olczyk. He played much better under Michel Therrien and had 37 points in 37 games in the second half, missing four games with injuries. Let's remember this, too: Gonchar had 58 points last season; over the previous five seasons with Washington and Boston, he averaged 59. He came within nine points of matching his single-season career high in points. So while we may perceive that last season was not a very good one for him from an offensive standpoint, the numbers say otherwise.

QUESTION: After the Los Angeles Kings announced that they were going to retire Luc Robitaille's number this season, I was wondering if and when the Penguins would announce a date to raise the number 66 again in the Mellon Arena?

-Jason Bowser in Pittsburgh

BOB GROVE: Nothing has been officially decided yet. Keep checking with our website at for more information.

QUESTION: Last year it appeared the Penguins did not have enough "toughness" to protect Crosby. With the off season additions at forward and defense, will Sid be able to skate more and concentrate on moving the puck instead of protecting himself?

-Calvin Zook in Martinsburg PA

BOB GROVE: Protecting Crosby and giving him the freedom to play his game should be a priority for the Penguins this season. But I've got to say that Sid did a pretty good job of handling himself last season as a rookie, both physically and by scoring or setting up goals to hurt opponents who took liberties with him. At no point last season did I sense that Sid was more worried about protecting himself than winning the game.

That said, I believe it falls to everyone on the roster to respond to teams that rough up Crosby. If that happens, and Sid can dial back the intensity a bit when it comes to talking to officials, the Penguins should be fine. As far as guys who will drop the gloves, the roster still includes Andre Roy and Eric Cairns -- although neither one played regularly enough last season to really do that job effectively. Jarkko Ruutu is likely to divert some attention to himself -- and off Crosby -- this season as well.

We may know a bit more on Dec. 9, when the Penguins visit the Atlanta Thrashers and Ilya Kovalchuk, whose on-ice antics last season lit a fuse under Michel Therrien.

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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