Dennis Wideman took the ice for a new shift late in the second period against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday and instinctively followed the play up to the offensive zone. By the time a teammate had corralled the puck on a rebound, the Washington Capitals’ defenseman had his stick raised and ready for a cross-ice pass and a booming one-timer that avoided a mess of bodies in front.
The goal against the Ducks was Wideman’s third of 2011-12 and represented his 10th point — tied for second most on the team with Alex Ovechkin — in what has been a fast start to his first full season in Washington.
When he was acquired from Florida at the trade deadline last year, Wideman instantly filled a void for a confident, puck-moving defenseman on the Capitals’ roster while Mike Green was out with a concussion. Fast forward, and with Green likely out for a fourth consecutive game on Friday against Carolina with a twisted right ankle, the Capitals are reminded once more of how Wideman’s presence eases the absence of the two-time Norris Trophy finalist.
Wideman, 28, has a similar ability to make strong outlet passes that provide the jump and speed to the Capitals’ offense, along with a keen understanding of the power play and a quick shot release from the point. He also doesn’t shy away from playing significant minutes. In the three games without Green, Wideman has skated at least 23 minutes 25 seconds in each contest.
“Other than maybe speed, they’re very same ilk of player,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They can think quick, both of them, and they can make that first outlet pass really well because they see the ice in front of them very well and they anticipate very well. Both of them are really good at it and that’s a lucky thing that you have two of them.”
After his 2010-11 campaign was cut short by a leg hematoma in late March, Wideman returned healthy this fall and said the injury has required only small adjustments, such as increasing warmup time to counteract a little more stiffness the day after a game and making sure his right leg is as strong as the other.
“It’s just instantly older. My right leg is like Hammer’s,” Wideman cracked, referring to 37-year-old Roman Hamrlik. “It’s just a little extra maintenance of taking care of it a little better.”
One of Wideman’s strongest attributes is his willingness and confidence when making plays up the middle of the ice, to help send the play in the opposite direction. It’s something that the Kitchener, Ontario, native feels comfortable doing given the skill level of Washington’s forwards — he doesn’t have to worry whether Nicklas Backstrom or Marcus Johansson will be able to make the correct play under pressure.
“A lot of guys will take the safe play and throw it up the wall, but his head is always up and he makes confident, sharp passes into the middle of the ice,” Brooks Laich said. “That allows us to transition out of our zone rather than getting stuck in scrums on the wall and stuff. It allows us to get out of our zone and on the attack.”
For all his positive offensive contributions so far, Wideman admitted he hasn’t been as sharp defensively. He had a particularly rough time in Washington’s most recent game, when he and Hamrlik were on the ice for the first two Anaheim goals and prompted Boudreau to shake up the pairings.
“For me, it’s always been just making sure you concentrate on winning battles and getting the puck out as fast as you can,” Wideman said. “Just some reads and stuff like that. It probably comes more so with not being quite mentally right there, ready to go for the start of the game. That’s something that, as long as you become aware of it, hopefully you can snuff it out pretty quick.”
Capitals notes: Jay Beagle hopes to skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex this weekend for the first time since Oct. 13, when he suffered a concussion after getting knocked out in a fight with Pittsburgh’s Arron Asham. . . .
Boudreau didn’t rule out Troy Brouwer, who has missed two practices with a right shoulder injury, for Friday’s game.