Whitney turns it around
Ryan Whitney celebrates his first goal with Petr Sykora in the first period last night against the Islanders at Mellon Arena.
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Ryan Whitney did not pretend that his coach's criticism didn't sting, or that it didn't provide him with a little extra motivation last night.
Which is why the New York Islanders had to wish Michel Therrien would have just kept his mouth shut.
Whitney, whom Therrien singled out for criticism after the Penguins' 4-3 overtime loss Monday in New Jersey, scored two goals and set up another in a 4-3 victory against the Islanders last night at Mellon Arena.
It was his first three-point night and multiple-goal game of the season.
"It was probably pretty easy to figure out [that he had more incentive than usual]," Whitney said.
The only Penguins goal in which Whitney did not figure was Kris Letang's winner at 16:21 of the third period, when he beat New York goalie Rick DiPietro from near the bottom of the right circle.
"The goalie was down, and the defenseman was backing up, so I just tried to put it on net," Letang said.
Turns out that, despite shooting from a sharp angle, he was able to put it in the net for the decisive goal.
"Obviously, that was a nice break for us," Therrien said. "DiPietro doesn't give up that kind of goal very often."
The victory improved the Penguins' record to 30-19-5 and moved them back into a tie with Philadelphia for first place in the Atlantic Division, one point ahead of New Jersey. The Flyers have a game in hand.
New York, conversely, has lost six consecutive games in regulation and is 1-7-1 in its past nine.
Whitney was named the first star of the game, and Therrien praised his overall performance.
"He responded exactly the way I was expecting," Therrien said. "He upgraded his game, not only offensively. Defensively, he was sharp, and this is what I want from him."
Of course, if Whitney's play actually was a response to Therrien's criticism, Therrien might want to consider calling him out a few times every week.
"I don't want to get that talk going," Whitney said, smiling. "You can leave that out of it."
The standing-room crowd of 17,075 included Whitney's father, who had offered a few observations of his own after the Devils' game.
"He's my harshest critic," Whitney said. "He gave it to me pretty well after the game, too."
While the game last night ended well for the Penguins, it began ominously when New York exploited a rare gaffe by Penguins goalie Ty Conklin to take a 1-0 lead at 4:31 of the opening period.
Conklin ventured into the right-wing corner to corral a shoot-in by Islanders winger Bill Guerin, but the puck got past him.
Former Penguin Andy Hilbert got it behind the goal line and threw it in front to Mike Comrie, who was unchecked and tossed a shot into the empty net.
"The puck was spinning on me, and the second it hit my stick, it went into the area [where goalies are penalized for playing the puck]," Conklin said. "In hindsight, I should have gone back there and taken the two minutes. ... That was kind of how my night went."
DiPietro made a sensational stop on a Ryan Malone deflection at 8:57 but couldn't prevent Whitney from tying the score seven seconds later.
Whitney took a feed from Petr Sykora and beat DiPietro from the inner edge of the left circle. Evgeni Malkin got the second assist, giving him a point in seven of the past eight games.
Whitney and Malkin figured in the Penguins' go-ahead goal, too, as Malone steered in a Whitney shot at 2:24 of the second for his 15th goal of the season and sixth in the past seven games.
The Islanders got that goal back during a power play at 6:30, when Ruslan Fedotenko beat Conklin on the short side from the inner edge of the right circle, but Whitney struck again a little more than five minutes later.
He grabbed a Malkin rebound above the left hash mark, then skated toward the net before tossing a backhander by DiPietro for his second of the game and 11th of the season.
That 3-2 lead stood up until 10:47 of the third, when Comrie threw a shot over Conklin's right shoulder from the bottom of the left circle seven seconds before a tripping minor on Colby Armstrong was to expire.
New York didn't wilt even after Letang made it 4-3 -- a Guerin goal as time was winding down was waved off because play was blown dead a split-second before he scored -- but the Penguins held on for a victory that wiped out much of the disappointment from their late-game fade three nights earlier.
"We wanted to bounce back from the third period we had in New Jersey," Conklin said.
"While we didn't have our best period, we held them off enough to get the win."
First Published February 8, 2008 12:00 am