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Whitney awaits word on his role

There was virtually no chance defenseman Ryan Whitney would sleep well Monday night knowing he was only hours from making his 2008-09 debut when the Penguins face the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at Mellon Arena.

Of course, there is a very good chance Whitney stayed awake wondering what role he might have, if any, on the Penguins' No. 1 power-play unit.

"They haven't said one word to me about who I'm playing with, if I'm on the (power play) or anything," Whitney said recently.

All Whitney knows is he is finally set to put behind him nearly two years of anguish and pain provided by his left foot, which was surgically repaired in August to correct a deformity that first turned troublesome a month before the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Recovery from that surgery kept him from playing in the Penguins' previous 33 games this season and limited his production last season, when his point total dropped by 19 from the previous campaign.

Whitney, a skilled defenseman in the second year of a six-season deal worth $24 million, scored 12 goals and recorded 40 points last season. That's compared to 14 goals and 59 points tallied in 2006-07, a breakout campaign in which he became a fixture at the "off" point on the Penguins' top power-play unit.

He was replaced at that spot by center Evgeni Malkin late last season. Malkin is now manning the right point due to defenseman Sergei Gonchar's injury-related absence. Defensemen Kris Letang, Philippe Boucher and Alex Goligoski have split shifts at the "off" point this season.

Whitney scored 16 goals and recorded 55 power-play points over the past two seasons.

His return tonight may be a sign of good fortune to come for the Penguins. Defenseman Hal Gill, on injured reserve with a left shoulder injury, said Sunday his recovery is "going good" and did not rule out a return before month's end.

Gill has not played since Dec. 6, when he was injured late in a loss at Ottawa.

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