(photo by Mitchell Layton)
While this season has had its share of ups and downs, history shows this is the time of year when the Washington Capitals begin to round into form.
In fact, over the last three seasons, the Capitals posted a combined record of 38-10-9 after the trade deadline. So while the team hasn’t always looked great once the postseason starts, they’re at least able to close out the regular season on a high note.
Fast forward to this season and while Washington has played just three games since the trade deadline, they’ve won each of them – including yesterday’s 3-2 overtime win at the Florida Panthers.
The victory was key because it enabled the Caps to regain the lead in the Southeast Division for the first time in 2011 and it meant the team is on its first four-game winning streak since Dec. 1.
One of the players who could play a pivotal role if the Capitals are going to continue to build momentum over the final 16 games of the regular season is newly acquired defenseman Dennis Wideman.
The 27-year-old defenseman, who was traded for prospect Jake Hauswirth and a third-round pick, comes to Washington with nine goals and 24 assists for 33 points in 63 games this season.
Wideman will likely be a vital contributor because he logs a ton of minutes (playing more than 22 minutes in all three games with the Caps) and his eight powerplay goals are more than anyone else on the roster – including captain Alex Ovechkin.
Best of all, if Wideman does excel this season, he’s signed through next season as well. So he’s not your typical “rental” player hoping to ride into town, win a few games and then move elsewhere.
I had the chance to catch up with the fifth-year pro before the Caps hit the road for Florida and, as you’d expect, he’s thrilled to be in Washington. Something about going from a doormat to a contender always seems to help get players fired up, especially come playoff time.
Were you surprised to not only be traded, but to end up being shipped to the Capitals – a team within the division?
“I don’t think the division thing was a big deal because of the position that Florida is in,” Wideman said. “They’re definitely rebuilding, so it wasn’t a big surprise to be dealt within the division. But I was surprised to be traded here because I hadn’t heard anything about Washington being interested.”
You’ve got an advantage over the other new guys – forwards Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm – because of how often the Panthers play the Caps. Because of that familiarity, I’d like to get your scouting report on the Capitals before you arrived in town. What’s your take on this team?
“Obviously, they’re a highly skilled group here offensively,” he said. “And this year, they’re getting better defensively, which makes them a lot harder to play against. What stands out most though watching these guys, it always seemed like they were having lots of fun out there.
“They’re a tenacious group that keeps coming after you no matter what,” Wideman continued. “You can usually hold them off the scoreboard for a period or maybe two, but eventually you’re going to have to score three or four times to beat these guys. Hopefully we can get back to that.”
You mention the goal scoring, which is obviously down this season. That, coupled with the powerplay woes, has caused a lot of hand wringing this season by Caps fans. Coming into the situation with a fresh set of eyes, do you think that stuff is correctable?
“There’s no fundamental flaws here,” he said. “There’s too much scoring power here. I think the scoring might be down, but they’re playing more of a playoff style game now. That’s how you have to play to be successful in the postseason. I mean, it’s exciting when you score five or six goals in a game, but if you’re giving up four goals a night, then it gets a lot tougher to win on a consistent basis.”
You had a great deal of success quarterbacking the Florida powerplay this season. Do you see yourself taking over the same role here in Washington?
“It’s a little different situation here,” Wideman said. “I’m probably going to spend more time getting the puck up to guys like [defenseman Mike] Green, [center Nicklas] Backstrom, [forward Alexander] Semin or Ovi. I’ll do that and try to get my shots on target as best as possible.”
Not to take anything away from the Panthers, but I couldn’t help but notice you begin to smile as you rattled off the names of all the people you can get the puck to now …
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “It’s definitely good to be in a room with so many skilled players like that. And like I said before, not only are they highly skilled, but they work hard and have a lot of fun. I’m excited for the stretch run here.”
When Scott Hannan was brought in earlier this year I asked how much of a transition he’d have to make learning a name system and he kind of downplayed a huge learning curve for defensemen – essentially saying “hockey is hockey.” That sound about right to you?
“Team to team there are a few fundamental differences – they might do a couple things different – but when it comes down to it, it’s all about reading and reacting,” Wideman said. “You need to read off of the guys you’re out on the ice with and try to make the right play. When it comes down to it, everyone basically plays the same game – just with a few small tweaks.
“I don’t know if it’s easier for a defenseman to fully adapt to a new team than a forward, but I think initially you can jump right in and read and react. Probably with a forward you have to spend more time getting used to your linemates and figuring out what kind of spots they like to get to. I think that probably takes a little more time.”