WILMINGTON — There is a white board in the entrance hallway to the Bruins locker room in Ristuccia Arena where the NHL standings are updated in black marker every morning after practice. A few Bruins players watched as staff members filled out the Eastern Conference board, where Boston starts the day in seventh place with, two points ahead of the last playoff spot and three away from falling below the demarcation line for those who will be playing extended Spring hockey and those that won’t.
Much has been made of the fact that the Bruins have had an inordinate amount of injuries have derailed Boston this year after last year’s team was the Eastern Conference powerhouse throughout the regular season. The top line from last year is basically been non-existent this year with Phil Kessel in Toronto, Milan Lucic missing most of the first half of the season and Marc Savard out for the foreseeable future with a knee injury. But the Bruins struggles have not been all about injuries and schedule quirks. There are a couple players on the roster who have not been playing well of late, players who are important for Boston to put pucks in the net.
Two that immediately come to mind are Dennis Wideman and Michael Ryder. Wideman and the coaching staff know that he needs to bring up his intensity, his compete-level as they call it, if he is going to return to prior form as a productive member of the team.
“We are almost 50 games in now and you have to take charge of the situation and bring you intensity level up,” head coach Claude Julien said. “Because if you are going to play like a (number) five or six then that is the ice time you are going to get ice time wise. It is pretty simple. We have to do the right things for our hockey club and he needs to pick up his game. He knows it, he wants to, but he has got to understand that his intensity and his compete-level have to be higher.”
For the normally sharp-shooting defenseman, it may be his head that is getting in the way.
“It is probably more mental than anything,” Wideman said. “I have got to start practicing a little better and hopefully I carry if over into the game . . . I have been in slumps when I have not been scoring or playing this well, but never this long. It is tough to be confident you are playing that way.”
Wideman has 14 points on the year and has no reasonable shot of matching his career-high 50 points from last season, even if he does turn on the light and become a point-a-game player for the remainder of the season. His plus/minus of – 8 is tied for the worst on the team (Byron Bitz).
“When you are tied for the lead in the minus department of you hockey club you have to look at yourself and ask ‘is that really me?’” Julien said.
For a guy who averages around 23:00 minutes of ice time per game, that is a number that is not acceptable. Especially from a guy who should be the number two defenseman on the roster behind captain Zdeno Chara.
On the other hand is Ryder, who has 19 points (11 goals, 8 assists) and has been having trouble not just finding the net but also finding the puck to shoot. He has been held shot-less in two of the last four games.
“It is always tough when you are supposed to score and you are not producing and you definitely take it upon your self where you just have to start doing it,” Ryder said. “I’ve got to make sure that I play better.”
Ryder had 27 goals and 53 points last year and he will also be hard pressed to even approach those totals the rest of this season.
The Bruins have the potential on the roster to turn from where they are at now, a mediocre hockey club searching for a spark, to something more like what they were last year. If Ryder and Wideman can find their grooves and combine that with players returning from the infirmary, it would be a start in the right direction. Yet, as Julien said, the whole team needs to bring its compete level up.
“It is one of those things that, if you bring your compete level up, you have a chance,” Julien said. “We have a lot of guys out of our lineup but you have to hope that they guys that you have in your lineup, that their compete level is where it should be. We should make a game out of it. We didn’t make a game out of it last game and we look to rebound from that.”