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Penguins Report: Teammates Welcome Whitney Back

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins players had a big surprise at practice on Friday at Southpointe. Defenseman Ryan Whitney accompanied his team in practice for the first time since last season’s Stanley Cup Final. The Penguins noticed right away.

“It was a little bit louder,” Brooks Orpik said. “We miss his voice. He’s always good to have around. He keeps it loose.”

Whitney has been sidelined from offseason surgery on his left foot. He was in a lot of pain and discomfort last season and decided to have surgery in the summer to fix the problem.

“I was his roommate last year on the road so I knew he was struggling with that foot all year,” Orpik said. “It’s something he got taken care of. It’s probably better he got it taken care of when he did rather than later on during the season.”

He rehabbed the past three months and started skating about a month ago. Practicing with his teammates is just another step in the process of playing again.

“He’s working really hard,” head coach Michel Therrien said. “Now it’s time to take another step to make sure he’s going to be ready as quick as possible. (Friday) was that next step.”

“He’s been working hard the last couple of weeks on his own,” said Sidney Crosby, who experienced his own lengthy rehab from a high ankle sprain last year. “Now that he’s able to skate with the team, for us it’s nice to see. For him it’s probably much nicer to skate with the guys than to skate on his own. A few of us have gone through that. It’s never fun.”

Despite the long layoff, Whitney jumped right into the mix. He skated alongside Mark Eaton and participated in most of the practice drills. Whitney looked fluid on his skates, as if he’s never missed a day.

“He looks like he’s skating really well,” Orpik said. “He looks like he’s in pretty good shape and he’s moving pretty well. It’s good to see him back. The sooner the better for us and for him as well.”

He looked pretty good for a first day. I was pretty impressed. - Michel Therrien
“It was fun to see him out there,” Therrien said. “He looked pretty good for a first day. I was pretty impressed. The players looked excited to see him back in practice on the ice.”

But no one was more excited about Whitney’s return than…well, Whitney.

“I was getting grief from guys, which is normal,” he said. “It’s nice to be in the team atmosphere. To be out there with them, it’s kind of fun to be a part of that.”

As for his return, there is no certain date, though Whitney pointed out that he would like to be back around Christmas.

“We’ll play it by ear,” Therrien said.

With seven defenseman already on Pittsburgh’s roster there doesn’t appear to be much space for Whitney to fit in.

“I just want to get in the lineup,” Whitney said. “It’s going to be tough. We’re playing well and there’s no reason for anyone to be out right now. It’s a matter of me practicing well and waiting if that’s the case.”

> Pascal Dupuis, who has played sporadically on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Miroslav Satan, was reunited on the top unit on Thursday against Atlanta. Dupuis looks like he’ll get another shot with the duo as he practiced on Friday with Satan and Crosby.

The remaining lines were: Maxime Talbot-Evgeni Malkin-Petr Sykora; Matt Cooke-Jordan Staal-Tyler Kennedy; Ruslan Fedotenko-Mike Zigomanis-Eric Godard.

Marc-Andre Fleury missed his fifth straight practice with an undisclosed injury. He is still listed as day-to-day after suffering the injury on Nov. 15 against Buffalo.

> Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo isn’t simply the cornerstone of the Canucks franchise, he’s their captain - literally. Luongo is the team’s designated “captain.” It seems unusual for a goalkeeper to be dubbed with the captaincy, however he is the team’s unquestioned leader. 

“I have no problem with that,” Therrien said of Luongo’s captain status. “They know him better than we do on the inside. He’s a true leader. That’s a unique situation. I’m sure they made the right decision. Look at their record this year. He must be a good leader.”

As the Penguins captain, Crosby understands the pressure that goes with the role. He believes that Luongo can fulfill his duties as captain, even if he is the goalie.

“I’m all for it,” Crosby said. “If that’s the case and players and staff feel that’s their leader, I don’t see why not. It’s a great accomplishment for a goalie. It doesn’t happen very often. To be named a captain is a huge honor.”


But Luongo isn’t just any goaltender. He is arguably the best in the league.

“He’s definitely right there,” Therrien said. “He gives the Canucks a chance to win every game. He’s been phenomenal. He’s a quality person. He’s a quality goaltender.”

Luongo is a workhorse, playing in at least 72 games the past four years. He’s 11-5-2 on the season with a 2.18 goals against average and .928 save percentage. His five shutouts this season are the most in the NHL.

“He’s probably one of the best," Crosby said. "He’s competitive. He doesn’t give up on any shot. He’s a big guy. He takes up a lot of space. It’ll be a great challenge for us.”

Penguins goalie Dany Sabourin had an chance to play with Luongo when he was a Canuck in the 2006-07 season. But it wasn’t Luongo’s phenomenal on-ice play that most impressed Sabourin. It was his overall demeanor.

“It’s how he handles himself off the ice with the media and the pressure you have (as the) No. 1 (goalie),” Sabourin said. “He’s been doing that for a while, since juniors. He’s got to deal with a lot of pressure. You make good when you have that kind of experience.”

Sabourin picked up a few things while backing up Luongo. The student will face his former teacher on Saturday.

“I learned a lot from Luongo when I played in Vancouver,” he said. “You learn a lot from everyone you play with. I try to take something away from everyone.”

> There are a few Penguins connections with Vancouver besides Sabourin’s stint there. Forward Matt Cooke spent over nine seasons with the Canucks before the team traded him late last season.

I’m a Pittsburgh Penguin now and that doesn’t change. I’ll make sure I’ll do whatever I can to help this team win. - Matt Cooke
“It’s the first time I’ll get a chance to play them,” Cooke said. “Having spent nine and a half years with that organization, there will be some emotion. It’s just one of those things that you have to go through. I’m a Pittsburgh Penguin now and that doesn’t change. I’ll make sure I’ll do whatever I can to help this team win.”

Therrien and Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault both worked together for the Montreal Canadiens organization for three-plus seasons from 1997-2000. During that time, Vigneault was the head coach of the Canadiens while Therrien was the head coach of Montreal’s AHL affiliates in Fredericton and Quebec.

“He was the head coach at Montreal and I was the coach in the American (Hockey) League,” Therrien said. “He invited me to all the meetings. We were communicating a lot on a regular basis.”

When Vigneault was fired 20 games into the 2000 season, Therrien was tapped as his replacement. However, the two have maintained a close friendship.

“We’re close friends,” Therrien said. ”When the game is, the game is on. He’s a good coach. He proved it in the past. When the game is on he wants to win and certainly I want to win too.”

> The Penguins are quietly off to their second-best start in franchise history through 19 games. Pittsburgh’s current record is 12-4-3 for 27 points, tying the 1992-93 team that had an identical record.

“We wanted to start well,” Crosby said. “We have so far but we have to keep it going. It’s a long season. It’s a marathon, whether you start OK or great it’s good for momentum but you have to keep doing it.”

Pittsburgh’s best start through 19 games was the 1994-95 club that went 14-3-2 for 30 points.

“We feel like we’re going in the right direction,” Cooke said. “We still make some mistakes. There’s time for us to get better. We just take things one game at a time.”

Therrien agreed with that assessment.

“Pretty good so far,” he said. “I’m pleased but the next one is always the biggest one to play.”

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