Monday night was no a fairy tale for the Caps, as they struggled against the New York Islanders for much of the game—but it was definitely a storybook ending. Brooks Laich tapped home the game-tying goal with less than a minute left, and Alexander Ovechkin won the game with a highlight reel goal in OT. Despite those late-game heroics, it was newly-acquired defenseman Dennis Wideman who may have made the biggest impact.
The addition of Jason Arnott, Wideman and Marco Sturm was supposed to improve the Caps up along the blue line, around the net and help improve the second line. While the Caps did not have their best game of the season—in fact it looked like it might be one of their worst as time ran down in the third period—they got the job done. The new guys certainly helped. A sharp pass from Arnott to Laich down low helped lead to the game tying goal, and Wideman’s play on the penalty kill clearly helped his team keep the game close.
Despite Arnott getting the helper on that critical goal, Wideman looked like he had the strongest game of the three new guys. Presented with the tough challenge of filling in for Mike Green, Wideman shined posting a +2 rating and clocked 26 total minutes of time on ice. Of those nearly 30 minutes, 4:45 of them were spent on the penalty kill, something that has struggled lately.
Moving past the stats themselves though, you could tell he had a strong game from the actions of his head coach Bruce Boudreau. Wideman was on the ice in OT and during the tying goal and was called upon in several key situations. Not only was he out there, but Bruce talked about playing him like it was a complete no-brainer.
“I thought it was just necessary [to play him as much as we did], we were down a goal and we needed some offense,” Bruce said when asked about Wideman’s playing time.
While Arnott will help and Sturm can certainly help the top line by driving to the net, it is Wideman that may be the key difference maker on this team. Not only does he have the offensive fire power to pitch in on the power play, or rush up ice, but he is smart. Several times he took a step back to assess the offensive zone before he jumped on a puck with reckless disregard. That mix of stay at home defenseman and offensive weapon is something the Caps have lacked for a few years. Oh, and Wideman has a little bit of a mean streak in him—something quite welcome to a team that could use a bit more grit.
The dirty blonde, gruff, d-man may have the intangibles and the ability to help the Caps, but above all he seems to have the attitude. Wideman uttered an audible “whoa” that could as the media swarmed him. He sounded like a kid in a candy store and he continued to talk about the city after the recorders were tucked away. He mentioned it was nice to be in a real hockey town, and finished his sentence with a very Canadian “eh?”
Forget the stats, forget the subpar +/- and forget all of the negatives people try to point out about him. Instead, focus on how nice it is to have a guy who is passionate about his sport and his team, mind you the team he has only known for a day. That breath of fresh thinking he can bring to the locker room may be more valuable than anything a scorer could ever bring.
The team has been stagnant lately and it may be, dare I say it, lacking in a bit of angry pride.
Wideman, from all appearances, seems to be neither. He also has the long view, with experience playing on a Cup contender and a basement team. Perspective is something the Caps have lacked at almost every position this year and Wideman has it. Several guys around the league have said Washington has a lot of guys that need to grow up. Wideman man may be able to help them do that, with his actions as well as his words.
It is clear Washington’s new d-man is a top four guy. If Wideman continues to play the way he did last night and keeps up his attitude, Washington will embrace his personality on the ice and in the locker room pretty quickly. Regardless of whether he scores game winning goals or sets up tic-tac-toe passes, it is clear he has already made an impact and the Capitals are happy to have him.