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Pens-Ducks Postgame: Sid goes goalie; Whitney’s return to form

PENGUINS 4, DUCKS 3

The Trib’s Terrific Trio:

1 – RW Tyler Kennedy, Penguins

Key stats: 2 assists, plus-3 rating, 5 attempted shots

Rossi: Ponder this question: As they are currently constructed, can the Penguins more easily adjust to life without injured C Evgeni Malkin and D Sergei Gonchar than Kennedy… KENNEDY!

2 – C Sidney Crosby, Penguins

Key stats: 3 shots attempted, 11-of-21 on face-offs, and…

Rossi: ONE BIG SAVE!

3 – LW Matt Cooke, Penguins

Key stats: 1 assist, 5 attempted shots, 1 hit, 2 takeaways

Rossi: His was in front of the net on D Alex Goligoski’s temporary go-ahead goal midway through the third, and in the face of Ducks players most of the game. This was classic “Cookie Monster.”

—––

SAY IT, SIR
“Being a street-hockey goalie comes into play on a play like that. It was old school.”

— Crosby, on his stacked-pads save on Ducks D Scott Niedermayer late in the game to preserve the Penguins’ franchise best seventh straight road win to open a season

———

STICK IT TO SID

At some point Crosby will draw a penalty for having his stick slashed and broken by an opposing player. It happened again last night, marking the third time in four games Crosby’s stick split after being hit and not one penalty was called. That said, until officials start assessing penalties for the infraction, I can’t see why opponents would keep from attempting it against Crosby, who clearly has grown frustrated with the frequency to which this happens to him.

———

NUMBER LOGIC

Some readers say I’m too big on stats. This is not for those readers.

The Penguins opened last season playing 56 games without Ds Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar, their primary point-men in two previous seasons when the power play clicked at 20.3 percent (171 for 841). Whitney returned Dec. 23 last season and regained his power-play spot, but the Penguins lost their advantage until he was traded Feb. 26:

CATEGORY : GAMES — POWER PLAY — TEAM RECORD

Without Whitney: 33 — 20.5 percent (30 for 146) — 18-11-4

With Whitney: 29 — 10.3 percent (12-for-117) — 12-15-2

Sources: NHL.com; ESPN.com

———

ON THE BEAT ROAD: Ryan Whitney

I’ve been accused of being an apologist for Whitney since the day he signed a six-year contract worth $24 million with the Penguins in July 2007. That was fair criticism, if not accurate. I never made any bones about the fact that his self-deprecation matched my sense of humor and we shared a love of conversations that I’d call “bar talk.” Let me use an example from two years ago to explain that term.

So, last night I was watching this show, and the science geek is in love with this pretty blond girl that used to be on that show, “8 Simple Rules…”

Whitney: Oh, yeah. I’ve seen that show. It’s not bad.

The science geek and the pretty blond?

Whitney: No, the other one. That girl is, like, young, right?

She’s older now.

Whitney: Can she act?

It’s a sitcom.

Whitney: Some sitcoms have pretty decent actors.

Don’t get me started. I’m still watching “Cheers” on DVD.

Whitney: I know, right? That show was awesome.

Diane or Rebecca?

Whitney: Based off what?

Which “Cheers” was better?

Whitney: Rebecca, by far.

Diane, dude!

Whitney: I knew you would say that. You’re old, right; so you probably saw those Diane episodes when they were on for the first time.

Well, yeah… and nice shot last night on the backdoor pass.

Whitney: Don’t change the subject just because you’re old, bud.

So, you have enough of those kinds of chats with a guy and, yeah, you probably develop a soft spot for him.

However, when I defended Whitney during his struggles that last two years to replicate his production during a breakout 2006-07 season, it was for two reasons —  and not one was because I genuinely liked the guy: 1) Criticism was aimed at him because he didn’t produce the way many people expected a guy making $4 million annually to produce, to which I always argued that I don’t agree with drawing a comparison between a player’s salary and success when discussing a his performance; and 2) He was playing on a hellish foot deformity that limited his skating by a measurable degree — and I knew this on a totally off-the-record basis because he had pleaded with me not to write about it, because he didn’t want to be seen as making excuses.

During his days with the Penguins, I came to know Whitney as a player that cared deeply about what people said about him — including, especially, the fans. He is a people pleaser. Whitney’s closest friend on the Penguins, D Brooks Orpik, backed up my assessment yesterday during a chat about Whitney’s final months with the Penguins last season.

Orpik insisted Whitney thinks too much, but I wonder who wouldn’t have in his situation.

“Luckily, it’s never happened to me, but everybody always tells you that you can’t worry about it — and people that say that are full of it,” Orpik said of trade rumors. “I think it’s impossible, I don’t care how laid back you are, to not think about it, especially when things aren’t going your way and people outside the locker room are telling you where you’re going to be traded.

“People that say they don’t worry about it aren’t telling the truth.”

Whitney was so worried about the reaction people might have to his foot that he begged Penguins trainers not to clue in GM Ray Shero about the severity of the injury. Whitney told me after the 2008 playoffs that when during a season-wrap meeting Shero, in which Whitney came clean with the likelihood that surgery may be required, Shero said, “You’ve been playing all year on this thing and it’s this bad — you’ve got to be kidding me; why?”

Pretty simple, Whitney explained to me. The Penguins had a better chance to win the Cup with him in the lineup. Considering they came within two victories in 2008, I find it hard to argue with his logic.

Whitney spent the entire month of June and the first couple of July weeks that summer seeking opinions from foot specialists, hoping to put off surgery. He kept the Penguins informed the entire time, and they provided their blessing. They wanted him to play as much as he desired to play, but Whitney also was aware that not playing would open the door for Ds Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski to prove their worth, and possibly render him expendable.

Still, he went through with the surgery.

Becoming expendable is exactly what happened, and by the end of October last season, Whitney could see the writing on the wall regarding his future in Pittsburgh. That foresight was obvious to me, as Whitney’s demeanor had changed from friendly to somewhat standoffish — though, in the interest of full disclosure, his mother was also dealing with a serious health issue.

I’m pleased to report Whitney said she is now doing well after brain surgery last February.

Looking back, I’m hesitant to be too critical of Whitney’s dour turn during his final months with the Penguins. His mom was sick — and facing relocation on a daily basis is no thrill, even if it comes with the territory for many players.

“I think he tends to worry about stuff more than he should, at least stuff like (trade rumors); but he had a lot of stuff going on,” Orpik said. “I went to dinner with him (Monday night), and he seems more than happy out here. But I think he was generally torn about (leaving the Penguins).”

On the day he was traded — Feb. 26 of last season — I attempted to reach Whitney with two phone calls and a few text messages. We chatted briefly the afternoon of the trade, but I didn’t hear back from him again until August, when he explained that he hadn’t wanted to deal with questions about leaving the Penguins and watching them win the Cup.

Before facing his former team for the first time last night, Whitney answered questions about the watching the Penguins win the Cup.

“It was weird: I was rooting for them, and when they won, I texted a lot of the guys,” he said. “That was tough. I’d always imagined winning the Cup there.”

So had I and many of his teammates; after all, Whitney was invited to the Cup Day of several players with whom he once shared a dressing room — though he declined those invites.

It strikes me as important to remind readers that Whitney was the first big-name Penguins player that Shero signed to a long-term deal, and as recently as July 2008, Shero told reporters, “I’m not trading Ryan Whitney.”

Of course, Shero had no choice. In Letang and Goligoski, he had suitable replacements at a combined cheaper rate; plus, he desperately needed a gritty winger to play alongside Crosby, and LW Chris Kunitz proved a perfect fit for that role.

Shero told me yesterday that he wished more trades worked out like his dealing for Whitney to Anaheim for Chris Kunitz and top prospect Eric Tangradi.

“I remember talking to (Ducks GM) Bob Murray, and we both really felt good that this would be a win-win deal for both sides,” Shero said. “I was never going to just give away a Ryan Whitney to another team. This deal made sense for both teams. It doesn’t always work out that way even if that’s the hope on both ends.

“I hope Ryan knows how much, as an organization, we appreciate what he did for us.”

Breaking up is hard to do, or so goes the saying.

Still, if my chat with Whitney yesterday morning was any indication, he has moved on. After his meet-and-greet with traveling members of the Pittsburgh press corps, Whitney was passed in the Ducks’ dressing room by RW George Parros, whose thick black mustache rivals any by a pro athlete in recent history.

That rocks.

Whitney: I know, right! I should grow one of those.

By when?

Whitney: I could have that by December.

December of 2010, maybe!

Whitney: No way. I’d have a sick mustache by this December. It would be great, bud.

Perhaps, but not as great as it was for me yesterday to find the old “Whitter” back in the game.

— BY ROB ROSSI (11/3/2009, in Anaheim, Calif.)

YINZ TELL US: Thoughts and questions are always welcome. Send emails to hockeyday@tribweb.com. Emails without writers’ full name and current hometown will not be read.

Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi has covered the Penguins for parts of every season that Sidney Crosby has played in Pittsburgh. So, since 2005. He has led the Trib's NHL coverage since 2007, when he became the primary Penguins beat reporter. He joined the Tribune-Review in November 2002. Rossi, 35, is local chapter president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. He also dabbles in radio, as ClearChannel's "Penguins Insider," and TV, as "NHL Insider" for Root Sports Pittsburgh, and as a semi-regular contributor to The Final Word, a Sunday sports show that airs on WPXI. In 2012, Rossi was recognized nationally by Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism for his coverage of youth sports for a Trib series that investigated concussion protocol. In 2013, he teamed with Carl Prine for an investigative piece about athletes' charities what was honored regionally. A graduate of West Virginia University and Keystone Oaks High School, Rossi was raised in Crafton and Green Tree and currently resides in Brookline. He is currently working on the authorized biography of Evgeni Malkin. Follow him on Twitter: @RobRossi_Trib

Comments

  1. What a great piece on Whitney! I didn’t have a negative view of him, but your descriptions of your interactions made me appreciate him and his time in Pittsburgh even more.

    A side note: I read the Pens and Steelers news every morning from my Blackberry as I’m prepping for the day. Having the articles in the left column with a duplicate link in the main column would be very helpful. After years of reading the sports pages every day, today was the first time I realized the left column didn’t have a link in the main column. I’m a web developer and should have recognized it sooner. Others may not be as explorative.

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