Game of the night: Columbus (24-22-5) at Pittsburgh (25-23-5)

tons of minutes, ounces of production

Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney: tons of minutes, ounces of production

You might think any defenseman leading the Penguins in minutes (25:41 per game, ranking seventh among defensemen) would be a monster in terms of power play points, overall points, and shots on goal. Especially when that player has the pedigree of Ryan Whitney.

But in 20 games since returning from off-season foot surgery December 23, Whitney’s numbers have been: one goal, nine assists, 32 shots, -11, 12 PIMs, and four PPPs.

The fifth overall pick in 2002, the 25-year-old Whitney had his best campaign in 2006-07 (14 goals, 45 assists, +9, 77 PIMs, 33 PPPs). He slumped in every category last season, but he still posted numbers worthy of a fantasy roster spot: 12 goals, 28 assists, -2, 45 PIMs, and 22 PPPs.

This season, Whitney has had his moments. Prior to his current two game scoreless streak, which includes an execrable -4 performance in a 4-2 loss at Montreal on February 3,  Whitney had netted seven points (one goal, six assists) in his last seven games.

In other words: it’s not time to drop him yet. But with teammate Sergei Gonchar (left shoulder) scheduled to return in a few weeks, it’s time to classify Whitney as a defenseman you might drop, if his production continues to sag.

Can Whitney shake his scoreless streak and finally capitalize on his superabundance of minutes? Was his seven-game run a fluke or a preview? Tonight’s home matchup against Columbus, a team that has allowed 11 goals in its last two games, should help us find out.

Two other reasons to highlight tonight’s game:

  • Columbus goalie Steve Mason (19-12-2, .923, 2.09, seven shutouts) is a No. 1 fantasy goalie and great rookie story. But he did not make the trip to Pittsburgh, since he is recovering from mono. His backup, Wade Dubielewicz, gets the call tonight. If Dubs plays well — and I don’t know how you could expect him to — then Mason may sit Saturday as well. Prior to tonight, Mason, who is only 20 years old, had made 19 straight starts. (Insert your own wisecrack about mono here.)
  • Quick: Which right wing leads the NHL in power play goals? It’s Penguins RW Petr Sykora, with 13. He is tied with Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne and one ahead of St. Louis’ Brad Boyes. No other right wing, including Marion Hossa (seven) and Jarome Iginla (nine), has as many as 10. For this reason alone, Sykora deserves to be universally owned. ESPN’s fantasy players (97.4 percent own Sykora) are on the ball, but too many Yahoo! users (only 78 percent own Sykora) are asleep at the wheel.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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