Facing old club nothing new for Stars’ Whitney

FRISCO, Texas — Ray Whitney has been here before. In fact, the 40-year-old veteran forward has been here six times already in his NHL career, facing a former club for the first time with a new employer. On Saturday night, the man who eclipsed the 1,000-point barrier last season will experience that feeling of déjà vu all over again to take a phrase from Yogi Berra when the Dallas Stars host the Phoenix Coyotes in the season opener for both clubs from American Airlines Center.

Of course, Whitney is not even a year removed from being the main offensive cog for the Coyotes, who are coached by ex-Stars bench boss Dave Tippett. Last season, his second in the desert, the veteran led Phoenix with 77 points while appearing in all 82 games. He added another seven points in 16 playoff games as the Coyotes advanced all the way to the 2012 NHL Western Conference Finals, losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

The savvy veteran definitely knows what it feels like to face a former club for the first time considering he’s done so as an Oiler, Panther, Blue Jacket, Red Wing, Hurricane and two seasons ago as a Coyote. So, considering he’s been through all of this before, it’s really not a big deal to him.

“Well, it doesn’t really matter to be honest. We had a good run last year [in Phoenix],” Whitney said. “They’ve got a great goaltender and they play a great team game. That’s probably one of the teams in the league that you can learn from in terms of how you get the most out of what you have and how you know every night you’re going to play a team that plays hard defensively and plays hard as a group. Their motto is together as a pack. That’s their mentality and they play it well. For us, it’s something we can learn from some aspects, apply it and get some good out of it. But we know every night playing them is going to be nothing for free.”

And even though he is one of the newest faces in the Dallas room and on the ice for second-year head coach Glen Gulutzan, he definitely knows that anytime you face a fundamentally sound club like Tippett’s Coyotes are known for being, it’s always a great test no matter whether it comes in Game One of Game 48 of this truncated season.

“Yeah, they’re a team that went to the conference finals,” Whitney said. “We’re really not too concerned about the other teams. We’re more concerned about how we’re going to play, how we’re going to play our system and how we’re going to play on specialty teams and that kind of aspect. So we’re more focused on us and not as much who it is, but it is a good test to start for sure.”

As someone who’s been in the NHL for the better part of the last two decades, he already knew many of his new Dallas teammates from playing against them over the last few seasons. But there is one Star he knows as a former teammate, third-line center Vernon Fiddler, a teammate of his in Phoenix two seasons ago.

“He’s a guy that I believe makes guys better. He’s showed that over the last couple years. He’s been like pretty much his whole career where he’s found places to play and produce a lot of points. He seems to find ways to make teams better. That’s what he did in Phoenix,” Fiddler said. “Playing against him last year and then the year I played there with him, he was one of those guys that when he was going the team was going. He just seems to make everybody on his line a little bit better and then obviously when his line’s going other lines are going. He seems like he’s one of those guys who can find ways to take momentum by offense and drive teams.”

Whitney has had countless teammates over the years but he admits it’s always good to have someone with Fiddler’s work ethic and a teammate who possesses a sense of humor like his on the pond as well as in the room.

“Yeah, it’s always good to get a Northern Albertan in there and have his dry sense of humor,” he said. “Fidds is a guy that plays hard every night and he’s fun in the locker room. So it’s good to be back with him.”

One big reason why Whitney was brought to the Lone Star State by Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk was to help a power play that ranked as the worst in the NHL last season and was also the worst in franchise history.

“We’ve got some work to do on it obviously, trying to get the unity with two groups of five. We’re excited to see what it can do,” Whitney said. “There’s room for improvement obviously from last year and there’s a chance to have a pretty good power play. But on paper, having a pretty good power play is different than having it translate from the ice. So it’s something we have to work on a little bit. New people getting used to each other, new breakouts, that type of thing takes time. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of that. But we’ll work on it and hopefully that’ll be the difference more nights than not.”