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Bruins breakdown: The puck movers

Posted By Dan Rowinski On February 27, 2010 @ 5:29 pm In General | 1 Comment

The second to last installment of our Bruins breakdown at the break focuses on the portion of the team where the Bruins never seem to have enough — puck moving defensemen.

This group, consisting of Andrew Ference, Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick has not been the bright and shining beacon of hope that the Bruins would like to see from three relatively talented individuals. Injury and inconsistency has the Bruins thinking a trade for another puck mover at the deadline might be in order for the second year in a row.

Ference – The problem with Ference is that his body is a ticking time bomb. He has not played in 60 games in a season for the Bruins since being acquired from the Flames in Feb. 2007. He played in 82 for the Calgary in 2005-06 and a combined 80 between the Flames and Bruins in 2006-07. Since then the his high is 59 for the Bruins in 2007-08. With 46 games played so far this year and 22 left to play, there is a chance for him to actually play in most of the Bruins games this season.

Ference’s health is important to the Bruins. He will never be the scoring type of defenseman (only regular player on the roster without a goal) but he is a good puck-moving defenseman who is often the man to start the rush out of the trapezoid behind the goaltender. He talks a lot about keeping himself in position and not getting himself into “bad situations” that could hurt himself or the team.

Ference’s classic plus/minus of -3 is about right for his standing on the team. He is not a liability (even the best get scored on) and he does not help himself out in that statistical department by putting pucks in the net. Ference has registered 57 shots this year with a shooting percentage of zero. To his credit, he does have seven assists which about half of those a result of a shot from the blue line.

As a second pair defenseman he is looked upon to protect the blue line and be a good defender through neutral ice, which has sometimes been a weakness for the Bruins this year. There is a definite correlation between the Bruins recent four-game winning streak and Ference returning to action. The Bruins play down the middle improved and thus the overall team attack was better.

Wideman — Bruins faithful want to know what has happened to Wideman, and rightfully so. For good portions of the year he just has not looked right on the ice. It has not been a matter of injury (54 of 60 games played) as far as anyone knows. He admitted in January that he needed to give a better effort and put his head into the game.

For much of the season, Wideman has been losing battles. Whether it be in open ice or in the corner, he has been a step behind. Going into this season he was supposed to be the No. 2 defenseman on the pair with Zdeno Chara, but he has played more like a fifth defender for much of the year. His classic plus/minus of -13 is by far the worst of the team. Yet, his plus/minus through 60 minutes is -.76, which is bad but not atrocious (Donald Brashear of the Rangers “leads” with -2.41) and is ahead of Byron Bitz (-1.13) and Steve Begin (-.89). Wideman is not the most talented defender but he does have enough good working parts to make him much better than his stat line would suggest.

On offense, he is as bitten as the rest of the team. His once reliable slap shot has gone erratic and multiple times over the past couple of months it has caught teammates in the arms and legs when they were not expecting it. Through one stretch in January he had one point (a goal against the Rangers) in nine games and the vultures were starting to swoop in. He has four assists and a plus/minus of -1 through seven games in February and the hope is that the break has given him time to refresh physically and mentally to be a better defender through the last 22 games of the season.

Hunwick — The sophomore slump seems to have bitten the affable Hunwick, hard. More so than even Wideman, it looks at times that Hunwick has been lost of the ice this year and at times it has cost the Bruins goals in bunches, such as his -3 performance in a 5-1 loss to Carolina on Jan. 24 (Wideman had a -4 that game). The difference between Wideman and Hunwick though is that Wideman is supposed to be a top three defender whereas Hunwick knows his role is at the back end of the rotation because of his relative youth.

The four game road trip before the break, as it was for so many Bruins, was particularly good for Hunwick. It started when he a flattening hit on Brian Gionta of the Habs and continued with good, physical play through the week to the point where he was able to become an defensive assist and not a liability (three plus-one ratings on the week).

Look for Hunwick to continue the physical play and shore up the back end of the defense more in the coming weeks when he is one the ice. Though, with all of the Bruins defensemen healthy (granted Chara surviving the Olympics in one piece) do not be surprised to see him as a scratch a few times through March.


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