NEW YORK — Ryan Whitney’s season is the dictionary definition of bittersweet — like landing the lead role in a movie, co-starring Miley Cyrus, Steven Seagal and Mr. T.
In an Oilers season that’s going straight to video, Whitney is leading his team with 13 points, and is sixth in the league in scoring by a defenceman. Too bad it’s against the frustrating backdrop of two wins in the last 13 games.
“It’s kind of unfortunate that things have gone the way they have for me, but we’re not winning,” said the Boston native. “I’d like to help with some wins here.”
He’s definitely not helping them lose, that’s for sure. While the Oilers are 1-2-1 and have been outscored 18-8 through four games of this road trip, Whitney is plus 1 with four assists.
It’s of very little consolation, though. What good is success if you can’t enjoy it with your friends? Ask Dustin Penner, who scored a career-high 32 goals last year but barely cracked a smile on the 30th place Oilers.
“There’s a difference between being a good player on a good team and a good player on a team that’s struggling,” said Whitney. “I remember Ray Shero telling me that in Pittsburgh, telling it to a lot of guys when we were struggling. Obviously we want to get it going and make it a little better feeling.”
That Whitney is on a nearly point-per-game pace is no surprise, even though he’s hasn’t come close to this kind of production since his sophomore season in Pittsburgh five years ago.
They told him in training camp, from which Sheldon Souray was barred, that this is how they wanted his year to go, that he would be counted on to play the big minutes, in the big situations.
“They put me in a role to succeed and they made that clear before the season, which I really appreciate,” said Whitney, who’s fourth in the NHL in minutes played per game (25:50). “When you’re out there a lot you have more chances to make plays. And we have a team that if you can get it up to the forwards, you’re going to get second assists.”
Some people knock second assists, but when you don’t have a defenceman who can make the first crisp pass out of the defensive zone, everything breaks down.
“It’s just about moving the puck up,” said Whitney, who rather likes the offensive upside of the guys he’s moving it up to these days. “It’s kind of Pittsburgh all over again. You get it to a guy like Crosby or Malkin, he makes the play and we score.”
Tom Renney says he can’t ask for much more from the six-foot-three, 210-lb blue-liner.
“At the beginning of the year we spoke to him at length about what we expected to do for him and ultimately him for us and I think he’s delivered,” said the coach. “He’s been excellent. He’s a big strong man who has the wherewithal to see the ice and deliver the puck where it has to go.
“He becomes a little efficient as the game goes on, but who can blame him. The guys is going to be 175 pounds by the end of the year.”
He played 30 minutes in New Jersey Friday, while no other Edmonton defenceman was over 22. Just another day at the office.
“I’m trying to take care of myself away from the rink,” he said. “(Shawn) Horcoff’s helped me a lot conditioning-wise. He has a pretty good program that I’ve used with him, certain lifts two days before a game, then a day before a game and certain warm-ups before games that I really never had before.
“He taught me some of those things, so Penner and myself have been doing them and it’s really helped. I feel good.”