Every team has a “goat,” or a player that has been the most disappointing when considering the expectations placed upon him. Throughout the regular season, the Washington Capitals rotated through several players who could fit this description, but through 11 postseason games, there is no argument over who has been their biggest letdown.
Dennis Wideman’s offensive credentials cannot be denied, but he has been Washington’s worst defenseman and arguably one of its worst overall players throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs and as such should be held accountable for his poor defensive play by not being able to play in the Caps’ upcoming games against the New York Rangers.
Based on statistics alone, Wideman has been a defensive liability. He has been on the ice for 60 percent of Washington’s even-strength goals against this postseason (12/20), but most egregiously, his minus-7 is the second-worst among all players who have suited up in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (conveniently tied with his defensive partner, Jeff Schultz). Considering head coach Dale Hunter’s rationale behind scratching Mike Knuble earlier this season, the second statistic should be enough to strip Wideman of a roster spot (as is the “haven’t scored in a while” argument; Wideman has two goals since returning from his first All-Star Game January 31).
Of course, statistics never tell the entire story, but Wideman’s effort – or lack thereof – on the Rangers’ second goal during the Caps’ 3-2 Game 4 win Saturday certainly does. Late in the second period, Marc Staal’s clearing attempt flew over the head of Wideman, who attempted to corral the airborne puck with his glove, but missed. Then, for some reason, Wideman stopped skating, allowing Artem Anisimov to beat him to the loose puck. In an act of desperation, both Wideman and Schultz left the front of the net and New York’s leading scorer this season, Marian Gaborik, completely unguarded, leading to an easy tap-in goal that sucked all momentum away from Washington.
Perhaps there was some sort of miscommunication among Braden Holtby, Wideman, Schultz (who is likely to be the scapegoat as per usual) and even the officials regarding a possible icing call, but that does not excuse Wideman’s lapses in both judgment and common sense. Both were reprehensible – especially from a player tasked with as much responsibility as he is – and that kind of lackadaisical effort is exactly the opposite of the hard-working, self-sacrificing and defense-first style that Hunter preaches. Such an error should not go unnoticed.
The Caps are somehow winning despite Wideman’s less-than-stellar play (though, ironically, he assisted on Mike Green’s game-winning goal), but there is little to no margin for error at this point and Wideman has become a defensive risk.
The idea of scratching an All-Star may be dumbfounding, especially one that was one of the top-scoring defensemen in the NHL, but Wideman is an All-Star by name only. Unfortunately for the Caps this postseason, he is only a defenseman by one, too.