December 03 2011 09:21AM
It's no secret that the Edmonton Oilers badly need the stability, calm feet and leadership provided by Ryan Whitney. No one should expect the all world half season provided by the big man a year ago, but solid defensive play married to PP expertise.
I've been watching with some interest to see how the coaching staff handles Whitney's return from injury. This is a team--like most NHL clubs--that lacks depth on the blue and can ill afford to have their best defenders go down with injury. How does an NHL coach bring a veteran with a significant injury history along? Answer: slowly.
After returning from his right ankle injury on October 18th, Whitney played in just 4 games before his right knee injury. Now that he's back, the coach is using him sparingly (compared to a year ago) and in specific roles. He is currently averaging about 18.5 minutes a night since coming back on November 25th, and the way he's been used is in stark contrast to last season.
- AVERAGE TIME ON ICE LAST SEASON: 25:20
- TIME ON ICE LAST NIGHT: 18:40
- EV TIME ON ICE LAST SEASON: 18:19
- EV TIME ON ICE LAST NIGHT: 16:37
- PP TIME ON ICE LAST SEASON: 4:19
- PP TIME ON ICE LAST NIGHT: 1:09
- PK TIME ON ICE LAST SEASON: 2:42
- PK TIME ON ICE LAST NIGHT: 0:54
So a quick glance tells us the coaching staff has nicked him a little at evens, cut his PK time in half and quartered the PP TOI. Much of that may have to do with the success of PP units, but still there's been no rushing Whitney back to the 25 minutes a night level.
Whitney began the game paired with Jeff Petry and played most with the young blue for the evening. The pairing lined up often with Belanger-Paajarvi-Jones and from what I could tell were matched against the Dorsett line often although they did see Huselius (everyone seems to have seen Huselius) quite a bit last night.
The heavy lifting (Nash line) fell to the sublime pairing of Laddy Smid and Tom Gilbert last night, allowing Whitney to feel more comfortable and find his way.
I think that's what the math is telling us this morning. Fewer minutes, a little off Broadway, finding his way and helping the kid Petry grow into his game. There will come a time when the bright lights shine on Whitney, and maybe he gets asked to do more against a Calgary team that seems to have added a second dangerous like (the Comeau trio) over the last while.
I'm always rambling on about adding defensemen, but if the Oilers can find a way to keep Whitney healthy they may have enough depth on defense to make it to the trade deadline. At that point, the teams dropping out might give this team the kind of strength on defense required to make a playoff run. Ryan Whitney's health will have a tremendous impact on the next 8 weeks.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Ryan Whitney's importance to the Oilers can't be understated. They simply don't have the bullets to get someone of his quality (unless Ales Hemsky goes on a run and they choose to deal him) and therefore keeping #6 upright is a very important goal for the rest of the season.
Nation Radio is on the air again this afternoon noon to 2 Edmonton time (Team 1260). I read questions here at Oilers Nation, from the other blog, twitter (ItsNationRadio and Lowetide_) and you can also email email@example.com if you'd like. Best questions are from you.
- Jason Gregor host of the Jason Gregor Show each weekday afternoon on Team 1260. Jason had some interesting takes this week--especially on Ales Hemsky--and we'll talk about that plus the importance of tonight's HNIC BOA.
- Kent Wilson will be by to tell us the name of the basement underwear blogger that caused Jay Feaster's gaunch to get tied in such a big knot. Kent will also tell us just how good Blake Comeau is and we'll argue over tonight's game.
- Dean Belanger from Jets Nation. Dean will discuss the emerging Evander Kane, how the Jets are winning these games (close and not so close) and give us an overview on the state of Canada's newest NHL team.
- Thomas Drance from Canucks Army. I want some answers on the Bobby Luongo item, it seems crazy to trade either goalie with the billion dollar man looking wobbly. I'll ask about Burrows, Raymond, injuries and waking up from the Stanley run sleep.
I'll have a couple of other surprises, so please tune in at noon today.