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Julien: Time for Bruins to show some determination 10.02.09 at 2:28 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — Back to work for the Bruins at Ristuccia Arena Friday afternoon following a lackluster ice-breaker against the Washington Capitals on Thursday night.

Plenty of talk about the power play unit, and the definite lack of mightiness after going 0-for-5 with only a single shot on net during over five minutes of 5-on-4 action in Thursday’s defeat. But in Claude Julien’s mind, the power play’s lack of bite went back to a surprising lack of determination and will displayed all over the ice after the opening 10 minutes.

Heading into the season the Bruins talked about weathering opposing team’s best punches in the frenzied opening minutes of games, and then slowly winning the game’s tide over through three periods. That seemed to work in exact reverse in their first game as the Black and Gold skaters had nothing in the tank after an opening flurry against Washington that ultimately didn’t bear any fruit.

“I wouldn’t pinpoint it as [power play trouble],” said Julien. “There was a lot more than that going on [against the Caps] in my book. Your best players have to be your hardest workers, and yesterday we were getting outworked on the power play and losing battles.

The power play breakouts and set-ups were sound, but there wasn’t enough gritty desire to keep the puck in the zone or create the dynamic puck movement that the Capitals confidently called upon on the other side of the ice. Combine the misfiring power play squad with Andrew Ference, David Krejci, Matt Hunwick and Marco Sturm all coming back from summer rehab programs amid an abbreviated preseason schedule, and there was a perfect storm of disappointment against a Caps team looking in mid-season form.

“A lot of it is we have to understand that our work ethic has to get better, and that’s a starting point for us turning it around,” said Julien. “We have a lot of challenges that are a little bit out of our control. We have a lot of guys that maybe aren’t in synch right now, and as a whole it certainly makes it challenging for our team.

“But we have to take a step back and maybe concentrate on our work ethic, and then maybe we’re giving ourselves a chance. The rest should follow. I have to push those guys to want to work harder, and they have to want to work harder. And they do it on their own as well. It’s a push from all of us, and it’s what we have to do to at least get back on the right track. ”

–The Bruins were licking their opening night wounds Friday morning, but also readying for a Saturday night date with a Carolina Hurricanes squad that ended their season in a Game 7 overtime heart-breaker last spring. Claude Julien admitted that he’s never watched a full replay of the Game 7 film after the fact, but has endured more than enough replays of Scott Walker’s OT winner in the last three months.

Shawn Thornton stayed in touch with Canes defenseman Aaron Ward following his trade to Carolina, and pleasantries will be exchanged before the hate starts flowing on the ice.  Thornton and his teammates remember exactly what happened during last year’s semi-finals after taking the Canes a bit too lightly, and that isn’t going to happen again after a soggy opening night.

“It happens all the time and it won’t be that weird because I’ve seen [Ward] in that jersey before. The tough part of the game is when guys get moved, but he’s home and it looks like he’s happy,” said Thornton. “I’ve talked to him a couple of times, but he’s not my teammate anymore and whatever happens out there, he’s on the other team.

“Obviously we haven’t forgotten that they knocked us out three months ago, so we have to bottle it up and use it in the right way. We’re not going to go out there running around like crazy and getting away from our game. But having a little bit of an edge and a little bit of nastiness to our game against the team that ended our season might be all right.” 

Dennis Wideman talked about the “too many men on the ice” penalty that started the ball rolling for Washington in the first period Thursday night.  It was one of those instances where the puck-moving defenseman wanted to pull his pass back as soon as it left the blade of his stick, but that isn’t possible without Doc Brown and a time-traveling Delorean. Instead the 26-year-old defenseman threw the puck toward the Bruins bench at exactly the wrong time during a shift change, and Brooks Laich made Boston pay with their first power play strike of the game.

“A lot of times I’m making those passes when I see the black sweater out of the corner of my eye and then make the pass without really looking,” said Wideman. “After I passed it and looked over, I saw we were in the midst of a line change. I should have looked before I made the pass over, and that’s basically what happened. I kind of put it in a spot where he didn’t know whether to take it or just leave the puck. It’s one of those instances where I should have taken a look before I snapped the puck over there.”

Read More: Claude Julien, Dennis Wideman, Shawn Thornton,
B’s game roster set for preseason tilt vs. Canadiens 09.24.09 at 12:26 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — B’s practice has commenced on Thursday morning without the players headed to Montreal for the Bruins/Canadiens preseason game. The game-day players skipped their morning skate, and the game roster includes:

Forwards — Patrice Bergeron, Zach Hamill, Chuck Kobasew, Guillame Lefebvre, Jeff LoVecchio, Kirk McDonald, Brad Marchand, Mark Recchi, Michael Ryder, Vladimir Sobokta, Blake Wheeler and Trent Whitfield.

Defensemen — Johnny Boychuk, Drew Fata, Andrew Ference, Adam McQuaid, Mark Stuart, Dennis Wideman.

Goalies: Tim Thomas, Dany Sabourin.

–Bruins coach Claude Julien said that Thomas will play the entire game Thursday night against the Habs.

The rest of the B’s roster is currently out on the ice going through practice. We’ll have updates from Ristuccia Arena as they happen.

Read More: Dennis Wideman, Patrice Bergeron, Tim Thomas,
Stuart ready to show his strengths on the ice 09.15.09 at 10:10 am ET
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There’s a word to describe just how mighty Mark Stuart is on the ice when he gets his physicality and aggression working for him, and starts intimidating opponents with his seismic body checks and ever-improving Aaron Ward-style forearm shiver.

Stuart, the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer and Captain Caveman all have something in common: they are all “caveman strong.”

So physically strong that sometimes the 25-year-old defenseman momentarily forgets just how much of a physical factor he can be in his own end with each and every shift. Stuart is still considered one of the kids on a young-ish Boston Bruins team, but he’s treated like something of a young veteran because he’s been logging D-man shifts with the B’s since he was a 21-year-old fresh out of Colorado College back in 2005-06.

“You always know what you’re going to get with (Stuart),” said B’s defenseman Dennis Wideman, who has been Stuart’s sometimes ‘D’ partner over the last two seasons. “He’s going to be working hard, shutting down cycles and punishing people. Then he hopefully gets the puck and you get it going.

“When Stuey gets angry you’d probably want to stay away from him because he’s a strong, strong man. Sometimes I think he doesn’t even know how strong he really is.”

It’s easy to forget some of the names that dotted the lineup for Stuart’s first NHL game on March 11, 2006: Marius Czerkawski, Tom Fitzgerald, Travis Green, Dan LaCouture, Brian Leetch, Marty Reasoner, David Tanabe, and the immortal Pat Leahy. Stuart experienced the post-Thornton trade dark times the Black and Gold went through before Peter Chiarelli and Co. cleaned up the franchise, and that gives him a little bit of perspective in a locker room seeking more leadership with influential players like Aaron Ward, Stephane, Yelle, P.J. Axelsson and Shane Hnidy having moved on to other hockey destinations. 

Stuart is eagerly looking forward to taking on that challenge as his role on the ice is likely to expand this season.

“I think I do need to (step into a leadership role). There’s a few guys that need to do that because we lost a few pieces of our leadership, but we still have a pretty good group that’s obviously led by ‘Z’ and Mark Recchi, who has got a lot of experience in this league,” said Stuart. “But some of us that have been here three or four years really need to step up now because we never had to before.

“You’ve got to find a happy medium between being vocal and setting an example. Just be a hard worker. I obviously don’t think I’ll be making too many flashy plays, so I’ll just get it done with hard work. Then I’ll throw a few (verbal) things in there every once in a while.”

Though Stuart has been logging minutes in NHL games for the last four seasons, last year was something of a breakout campaign for the defenseman that played in all 82 games for the second straight season and posted career-highs in nearly every single statistical category. That in and of itself is an accomplishment for Stuart, who isn’t a defenseman that’s ever going to be judged on gaudy conventional statistics. Grime-covered stats like hits and blocked shots will tell some of the tale with Stuart, but many of the skills he brings to the table were honed and perfected while watching the rough-and-tumble Aaron Ward play a very similar style of ‘D’ over the last two seasons.

With Ward now taking defenseman shifts in his adopted home state of North Carolina after a trade to the Carolina Hurricanes, Stuart remains behind as the only pure stay-at-home, physical blueliner capable of riding even the strongest of forwards into the corners and moving bodies around in front of the net. All of these things are clearly a part of Zdeno Chara’s game as well, but he’s clearly more of a hybrid defenseman given his offensive skills and power play responsibilities. That being said, there may be more offensive upside with Stuart after putting together a career-best 17 points last season with 5 goals and 12 assists.

Stuart has always threatened with a booming slap shot from just inside the blue line, but he’ll have to pile up all his points during even strength situations. He said he concentrated on working with his hands over the summer to improve himself a bit offensively, but Stuart isn’t likely to electrify with one-man defenseman rushes up the ice. 

With Patrice Bergeron, Derek MorrisAndrew Ference, Dennis Wideman, Zdeno Chara and Matt Hunwick all capable power play point men embroiled in an interesting competition for four point spots on the two power play units during camp, Stuart won’t be seeing much in the way of PP time this season.

“I think this year we’ve got an abundance of guys to choose from to stay on (the power play),” said Wideman. “This year if everybody stays healthy there’ll be a lot of pressure to stay on there, and if you’re not producing then there will be one, two or three guys ready to take your spot. There’ll be some healthy competition for the PP.”

Instead the 6-foot-2, 213-pounder will focus on what’s expected in the D zone, chipping in during the odd offensive moment that presents itself and continue cultivating himself as part of the young leadership group on the hockey club. Stuart should get a lot more playing time than last seasons 15:25 of ice time per game to flash all of those skills among a defensemen corps, where he’s much more one of a kind with his impressive feats of on-ice strength.

Read More: Dennis Wideman, Mark Stuart, Zdeno Chara,
Julien: Bruins need to get going in “right direction” 03.17.09 at 1:00 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — With only two games scheduled over the next 10 days for the Boston Bruins — including a pretty big statement tilt against the New Jersey Devils this Sunday afternoon — the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins jumped back onto the practice ice this morning with something of a scrimmage feel.

The players were working on four-on-four drills and head-to-head matchups designed to raise the compete level and give off the vibe of an actual game, perhaps the best use of the time without a game until Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings at the Garden.

“We need to fine tune ourselves, get some rest and get going in the right direction,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I think our team play is what’s suffering the most right now. If we get the team back on track then the standings will take care of themselves.

“It’s about getting our team to play as well as it can right now,” added Julien. “The thing that I see from watching our games is that the effort being deployed isn’t a poor effort. But it can appear like that at times when it’s not done properly. I thought our guys competed hard, but didn’t compete well and it resulted in penalties and scoring chances against. The slot opportunities that the (Penguins) had against us was as (many) as I’ve seen us ever give. It’s about a commitment to playing our game, and fine-tuning that part of it.”

–Winger Phil Kessel was given a maintenance day off where he was at Ristucca Arena but didn’t see the ice. Everybody else was present and accounted for in the Boston lineup for the skate after an off-day on Monday.

–Julien agreed that defenseman Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman have been part of a group of Bruins players that have perhaps attempted to do too much during the Black and Gold’s recent stretch of treading hockey water. During the month of March, Big Z has a goal and 5 assists, but is also an Chara-like -2 in 8 games while Wideman — who really had a poor game against the Penguins in giving up the puck that led to the first goal, heading to the box for a penalty that created a 5-on-3 and having a shot from the point blocked that directly led to another Pens goal — has 2 assists and a +/- of zero over those very same eight March hockey games.

Chara has been -3 in two games since the beginning of March (losses to both the Flyers and Penguins) since not posting that bad a +/- since Opening Night against the Colorado Avalanche way back in October — a period of time when the towering defenseman was still regaining form after offseason shoulder surgery.

Julien didn’t see a pair of blueliners that were injured or really worn out by the considerable ice time they’ve logged this season, but instead talked about a pair of good players getting out of their respective “games”.

“I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the minutes played. There are a lot of D playing minutes like that. It’s more about those guys trying to do too much and forcing too much. When you have a team trying to gain consistency, you’ll have guys that are attempting to do more thinking they’re going to help the team.

“And it just makes it worse,” added Julien. “This is a good time to take a step back and simplify your game and give it that type of effort for 60 minutes. Simple and consistent, and that will help us find our game again.”

Marc Savard wasn’t going there when asked about the war of words between himself and Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby on Sunday afternoon that supposedly escalated to Sid the Kid taking off his face shield mid-game in anticipation of dropping the gloves with Savard. Perhaps it was simply something wrong with the visor — a scratch perhaps — that caused Crosby to take the protectice visor, but he was clearly playing without it later in period.

Savard said there was a little chirping between himself and Crosby, but nothing more.

“Well, it was just chirping you know … whatever,” said Savard. “There was nothing there. I don’t even want to talk about it.”

Read More: Dennis Wideman, Phil Kessel, Zdeno Chara,
Penalties lead to B’s undoing at the hands of the Penguins 03.15.09 at 8:18 pm ET
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Take penalties against the New York Islanders and you might just be able to kill them off.

Take those some penalties against hockey guys named Crosby, Malkin, Gonchar and Guerin and you might not be quite as lucky in the world of the NHL. That seemed to be the moral of the story for a Boston Bruins team that trudged off to the sin bin eight different times in a 6-4 loss to a white-hot Pittsburgh Penguins squad on Sunday afternoon. Sidney Crosby and Co. have taken points in each of their last 10 games during a meteoric rise over the last few weeks through the Eastern Conference standings.

It appeared a week or two ago that the Penguins might be a potentially dangerous first round opponent for the Spoked B in the playoffs, but it now appears that Mario’s Boys are shooting their way up into the middle of the pack once the “tournament” starts in mid-April.

But now the Bruins are left holding the hockey bag once again with no points after they couldn’t find a way to muster that one final goal in the final eight minutes of regulation to send the game into OT — and in the process gather another all-important point providing space between themselves and the hard-charging New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals.

It’s eye-opening to watch some NHL playoff-caliber teams simply will themselves to overtime in tight one-goal games when valuable points are on the line, but time-after-time the Bruins haven’t been able to grind their way into the extra session. It’s a test of will and determination that this team could and should have — particularly if they could show the kind of frenetic throw-everything-at-the-net jump that they showed once Pittsburgh netted the open-net goal in the third period.

Less than 24 hours after singing the praises of a Bruins team able to snuff out a Mark Streit-led Isles power play unit during a third period 5-on-3, the B’s once again spent plenty of ice time on the PK. This time, though, the high-powered Penguins made them pay for it — with some of the penalties of the questionable variety and others simply sloppy decision-making and bad judgement infractions.

Case in point: a Dennis Wideman slashing penalty in the first period that came after the whistle and seemed more out of frustration than anything else in a fairly chippy, high-intensity hockey game. That Wideman penalty led directly to a power play score for Chris Kunitz during a mad scramble right in front of the Bruins net.

The good news for all those stockholders in Black and Gold Inc: Phil Kessel continues to heat up and resemble the guy that looked like he was going to be a 50-goal scorer before mono knocked him back for a bit. The 21-year-old now has goals in three straight games, and has given the B’s a much-needed offensive transfusion. Blake Wheeler also looked like he had as much spring in his step as he displayed during the entire first half of the season. The big rookie potted his first goal since a Feb. 17 game against the Carolina Hurricanes — a span of 11 games that the 6-foot-5 former Golden Gopher had endured without a lamp-lighter.

Injury Ward:Dennis Wideman took a shot off the right knee in the third period and was hobbled — but the blueliner continued to play through the injury for the remainder of the third period.

Player of the Game:The Penguins felt like they addressed some of their grit/competitiveness issues when they traded for Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin, and both skaters seemed to be in vintage postseason form while each totalling three points and playing big, big roles in the victory over the Bruins. For the B’s, the Wheeler/Kessel/Marc Savard was pretty effective throughout the game.

Goat Horns:Dennis Wideman had one shot on goal, took two penalties (including one after the whistle that led to a Penguins goal) and was a -3 for the night. All in all, pretty ugly. It wasn’t really a banner day for any of the Boston blueliners, and the shot that clanged off his knee in the third period just dropped his afternoon from bad to worse.

Turning Point: The Bruins had a 3-2 lead headed into the third period and things seemed to be in a good spot for the Black and Gold, but a pair of Penguins strikes within 18 seconds of each other in the opening moments of the third period really sapped the energy right out of the Penguins. The Bruins managed to tie things up again in the third, but the quick attack of the Penguins clearly knocked the B’s skaters back on their heels in the final 20 minutes of the eventual loss.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Dennis Wideman, Zdeno Chara,
Amid second-half slide, B’s searching for answers 03.05.09 at 11:37 pm ET
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Frustration appears to be bubbling over in the Bruins dressing room as the inconsistent performances stack upon each other, and those immediately chasing the Spoked B in the Eastern Conference standings keep gaining ground in disconcerting clumps.

Things hit a new low last night, as the Bruins clearly got back to their difficult-to-play-against ways but couldn’t muster up enough lunchpail offense in a 2-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes at the TD Banknorth Garden.

The straggling, struggling Black and Gold sit mired in a 3-6-2 slump over their last 11 games, and have degenerated into a mystified hockey team searching for answers amid a series of passionless periods, 80-foot fluke goals and bang-bang shots at open nets that inexplicably sail over the inviting crease.

The catalyst for the current 11-game slide back to the pack? Travel back to a Feb. 10 loss to the San Jose Sharks on their home ice where Jumbo Joe Thornton and Co. clearly turned on the jets in the third period and left the B’s scrambling for confidence after getting beaten down by the Western Conference powerhouse.

It was a national Versus game billed as a potential Stanley Cup Finals matchup between the Beast of the East and the Best of the West, and it ended with a stunning collapse from which the Bruins still haven’t fully recovered. Instead of a crowning moment punctuated by the triumphant Bruins leaving the arena with NHL bragging rights, Claude Julien’s boys have dropped into an undeniable rut that has some in the hockey world wondering whether this team was truly as good as its nearly letter-perfect first half.

Perhaps the overwhelming nature of that third period simply humbled a young, fearless puck bunch and splashed a bit of doubt into the minds of a group of brash young hockey players.

Boston has flashed glimpses of the dominant squad that simply slammed the hammer down on opponents during the first three months of the year, but it’s becoming apparent the San Jose defeat damaged the exposed psyche of a young, talented team attempting to make their first big statement.

Despite their current freefall, the Bruins have maintained the top spot in the East and have blowout wins over the Ducks and Panthers within the erratic stretch. But even Boston’s best players are starting to search for answers just out of their reach. The New Jersey Devils remain six points behind the B’s in the East, and they’ve won 8 of their last 10 and regained their Hall of Fame goaltender in the same breath.

Is it time to worry yet?

“What’s frustrating is that we know how we can play, and we can dominate when we’re at our best,” said center Marc Savard. “We didn’t put any pucks in the net and maybe we’re being a little too cute at times. We’ve got to try to nip this in the butt right now. We’ve got a big weekend ahead of us and we all know that. We’ve got to start pulling points out of games, and we all know that.

“It’s not for the lack of effort,” added Savard. “We’re trying. I know the fans come out all year. We heard the boos off the second, and we don’t want that. We want to go and show them what we can do, and want it to be a long run here. It was frustrating for us too.”

The Big, Bad hockey club put forth a grating, physical brand of hockey, outhitting the young Desert Dogs by a 31-10 margin during last night’s defeat, and Milan Lucic, Mark Recchi and Chuck Kobasew were all — at different times — camped out in the middle of the high-traffic zones attempting to redirect pucks, screen the goaltender and manufacture any kind of goal. There just wasn’t enough of it happening to make a difference.

It was exactly the kind of things that hockey purists preach to escape a rut, but nothing worked for a club that’s clearly squeezing the daylights out of their hockey sticks.

“I wish I had the magical answer for what’s going on, but it’s simple things right down to plain effort from every single player,” said blueliner Aaron Ward, who was part of an aggressive corps of defensemen that time and again pinched and crashed into the offensive zone without ultimately cashing in. “You’re out there and you hear the fans booing, and it’s justified right now to express displeasure for our performance. You watch video postgame and that’s simply not the way we need to be playing the game.

“I’m laughing, but it’s pretty (discouraging) to sit here and wonder what’s going on,” added Ward.

Several players talked afterward about “being too cute with the puck” and “not playing a full 60 minutes of hockey,” but they also appeared frustrated to hear boos cascading down to the ice from the 16,818 in attendance in the closing seconds of a flatter-than-flapjacks second period.

The worst part?

The B’s knew they deserved the Garden catcalls after seizing control of the game early on the strength of Chuck Kobasew’s goal, and then simply allowed things to slip out of their fingers later in the first — and then stumbled right on into an uninspired second period.

The B’s have become a shadow of their first-half selves as the postseason pressure cooker looms closer with every passing day, and the time has come to pack away the rookie walls, nagging injuries, and line chemistry questions into the excuse box in the Garden attic.

The time has come for the Bruins to regain the confident identity of the season’s first half and simply start willing themselves to goals and wins against whatever lines up across the ice from them. The time has come for the B’s to heal up the damage of month-old wounds and protect what they’ve worked so very hard for over the course of a long hockey season.

If they don’t — and fast — then things will get far worse than they were against the Coyotes on a random Thursday night in March.

“I just feel that talk is cheap,” said Julien. “The same thing with standing up front here and trying to explain to (the media). Talk is cheap right now. We have to go up there and then execute. I can stand here and give you all of the excuses. There shouldn’t be excuses. There’s got to be reasons to want to turn this thing around.”

Injury Ward: Milan Lucic came through with flying colors in his first game back from an “upper body injury” and was a physical presence with six crunching body blows against the Coyotes. Other than Looch, everyone else appeared to come through okay.

Player of the Game: Zdeno Chara. After the rare off-game on Tuesday night, Chara responded by playing with some snarl and absolutely beating down Coyotes all over the ice with punishing checks and intimidation tactics. A good rebound game for Big Z.

Goat Horns: Dennis Wideman. It was a bad night for Wideman, who turned a puck over in the D-zone during the Phoenix power play that quickly led to Scottie Upshall’s first Coyotes goal. The score deflated the team for a bit, and Wideman was on the ice for both of the Coyotes’ goals on the evening. Blake Wheeler has also continued to struggle in the final months, and was limited to little more than 10 minutes of ice time on a night when backchecking seemed optional among many of Boston’s forwards.

Turning Point: The Bruins basically crawled up and died for the next 30 minutes of play once Scottie Upshall banged home the Coyotes’ first goal — a power play score — off a bad Dennis Wideman turnoever. A hockey team simply can’t do that anymore in March and April.

Read More: Aaron Ward, Claude Julien, Dennis Wideman, Marc Savard
Wideman hit in face with a high stick 02.21.09 at 7:23 pm ET
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SUNRISE, Fl. — Bruins blueliner Dennis Wideman took a high stick to the face at the 13:05 mark of the first period and has retired to the B’s dressing to have his injury attended to. The errant stick cut Wideman open and there were visible droplets of blood on the ice, and a double minor penalty for high-sticking was assessed to Panthers center Michael Frolik.

UPDATE:Without missing a beat, the gutty Wideman returned to the ice and was manning one of the points on the power play for the B’s following a stoppage in play. That, friends, is a hockey player.

The Bruins and Panthers are locked in a 0-0 tie midway through the first period at the BankAtlantic Center.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Dennis Wideman, Florida Panthers,
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