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CHRISTENSEN, WHITNEY HOPE TO SPARK PENGUINS

Monday, 10.31.2005 / 12:00 AM / Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins
RELATED PRESS RELEASE: PENS RECALL ERIK CHRISTENSEN AND RYAN WHITNEY 10/31/2005

With one win in 11 games, the Pittsburgh Penguins need a boost.

Erik Christensen and Ryan Whitney hope to provide it.

The two rookies were recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and came to Pittsburgh on Sunday. They practiced with their Penguins teammates on Monday.

“I know the team here has probably been struggling a bit. I guess they are just giving some guys an opportunity,” Christensen said. “We have been playing well down there. I am ecstatic to be here.”

Christensen, a center, and Whitney, a defenseman, both enjoyed a successful training camp in Pittsburgh and were among the Penguins’ last cuts. They continued their strong play in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

“Basically [the problem has been] just being consistent with this team. That’s what I have seen from watching,” Whitney said. “I don’t think I am going to come here and do any saving, but I am just going to play my game and hope that it helps.”

The Penguins (1-5-5) opened their season winless through their first nine games before beating Atlanta, 7-5, on Thursday. However, the Penguins dropped a 5-3 decision to Carolina on Saturday. The Penguins are last in the Atlantic Division with seven points and next-to-last in the Eastern Conference – one point ahead of Atlanta.

“I think everyone is probably a little surprised since they had high expectations,” Christensen said. “It’s still early. There’s plenty of time to turn it around and the guys [here] are certainly capable of doing that.”

Meanwhile, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Penguins are off to a franchise-best 9-0 start.

“We have a real good team down there and we just play real good team hockey,” Whitney said. “I was just lucky enough to have some pucks go in.”

Christensen, a 2002 third-round pick, ranks third in the American Hockey League with 19 points (9+10). He was paired with Ryan Malone and Ziggy Palffy on a line at practice Monday at Mellon Arena.

“I was extremely nervous today at practice skating with Ryan Malone and Ziggy,” he said. “I am ecstatic to be here and it’s going to be a thrill to play my first game.”

Christensen’s success is no surprise. He opened many eyes in training camp when he led the Penguins’ annual training camp tournament with seven goals – including five in the championship game – and finished tied for the tourney lead in points. He hopes to fill the team’s need for a second-line center.

“I think I am going to bring some speed and some energy. I am an offensive player. Maybe I can bring what I was doing in Wilkes-Barre and maybe chip in a little offensively here,” he said. “Being good on face-offs and responsible in your own is first and foremost the important thing. With me having an upside offensively, I think it’s important to be contributing offensively as well defensively and also winning draws.”

Whitney, a 2002 first-round selection, leads all AHL defensemen with 14 points (5+9). An injury to Penguins defenseman Dick Tarnstrom, who is out indefinitely with a knee injury, opened the door for Whitney, who is an offensive defenseman like Tarnstrom.

“I am real excited. It’s just a thrill to be here,” Whitney said. “I am just hoping to play the same way. I am sure the numbers won’t be the same as they were down there. I am just looking to break out the puck well and play solid hockey and be consistent.”

Whitney, who will be paired with defenseman Steve Poapst, hopes to use his puck-moving skills to help Pittsburgh’s offense as well as the penalty-killing units.

“I just hope to play with confidence and be consistent. One of my strengths is breaking the puck out,” he said. “As long as I am getting the puck and moving it quickly to these forwards, I am doing my job. You create a lot of offense by doing that.”

Christensen and Whitney joined the Penguins just in time for their five-game road trip. The Penguins begin the voyage Tuesday in New Jersey before they meet the New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers and Atlanta Thrashers – all in a span of nine days.

“They are all huge games,” Whitney said.

Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk plans to use both players immediately and extensively.

“Both guys are going to get opportunities to play and play a lot,” he said. “They played very well down in Wilkes-Barre and we’re hoping they will energize us. They felt we played pretty well in some games and now we have to find a way to finish them off. Hopefully these guys will help with that.”

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