Penguins Notebook: Whitney's consistency key issue

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Sure, Penguins coach Michel Therrien said yesterday, he could have just scratched Ryan Whitney from a 2-0 win Tuesday night at New Jersey and for the home game last night against the New York Islanders.

But in determining Whitney is the team's seventh-best defenseman right now and needs to play better defensively, Therrien preferred to move him up to left wing for the games.

"It would have been easier for us to just sit him down and let him watch, but we believe he's an important part of our team," Therrien said.

Whitney has made it clear he understands the move is a strong message from his coach, but Therrien still offered a bit of a vote of confidence.

"It's not like we lost confidence in him," Therrien said. "We believe he's a good defenseman. But, in the meantime, he needs to be more consistent in his game."

Therrien said Whitney has not stacked together stretches of strong games.

"This time of year, that can't happen. It's a matter of attitude, how he's going to react."

Opportunity knocks

Depleted by injuries and illness and with no playoff spot to grab, the Islanders have been in an unusual situation this week with five transitional players.

Defenseman Matthew Spiller, goaltender Joey MacDonald and forwards Tim Jackman, Jeremy Colliton and Steve Regier have been shuffled between the Islanders and their American Hockey League affiliate, Bridgeport.

The five were dressed for the Islanders' 4-1 victory against the Penguins Monday night on Long Island, then played for Bridgeport Wednesday in a 3-2 win at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins' minor-league team.

Then, all but MacDonald drove to Pittsburgh, arriving around 3 a.m. yesterday. They were given the morning skate off and were in the lineup last night but could continue the routine.

Islanders coach Ted Nolan described it as a difficult situation, but didn't feel too bad for that group.

"I wouldn't complain whatsoever," Nolan said. "It's an opportunity to play in the National Hockey League that they probably wouldn't get otherwise."

A tough call

For weeks, Penguins fans were anticipating the situation that finally arose last night -- Sidney Crosby and Marian Hossa playing on the same line.

That left Nolan as the first coach to have to ponder how to counter that line and the Ryan Malone-Evgeni Malkin-Petr Sykora threesome. A top line against one and a checking line against the other? Trial and error?

"Cross your fingers and pray," Nolan said.

900th game for Gonchar

Last night was Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar's 900th NHL game.

"Coming into the NHL, you never expect it," he said. "Actually, growing up you never dreamed of being here. Then you look up and you realize you've been here for a while -- especially with all the young kids around you."

Slap shots

Penguins forward Kris Beech continues to practice with the team but has no timetable for returning from a broken right wrist. "When it came out of the cast, I wasn't expecting it to be where it was," he said. "It wasn't too bad. It feels good." ... Penguins winger Gary Roberts skated again, but not with the team in the morning skate. ... The Penguins scratched goaltender Dany Sabourin and forwards Jeff Taffe and Chris Minard. New York scratched forwards Andy Hilbert and Mike Comrie. ... The Penguins are holding a Tune Up for Tryouts camp for ages 5-17 today and tomorrow at Ice Castle in Castle Shannon. Power skating instructor Besa Tsintsadze and Robert Morris men's coach Derek Schooley are featured instructors. Visit www.pittsburghpenguins.com for information.


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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