Wheeler isn’t out of place at center
By his own admission, there wasn’t much Blake Wheeler had to do.
In Wednesday’s third period against Pittsburgh, as the second man in on the forecheck, Wheeler had a close view of the sublime: a textbook hit and takeaway by Mark Recchi.
As Zbynek Michalek retreated to retrieve the puck, the ageless winger bashed the defenseman into the boards. Following the collision, Recchi stripped Michalek of the puck and turned to look for help. Wheeler got a step on Kris Letang, received Recchi’s feed, and beat goalie Brent Johnson for the Bruins’ fourth goal of the period.
“He pretty much did everything,’’ Wheeler said. “He took the guy out and got the puck. I just had to stay in front of the net.
“We did a good job of getting the puck in deep. I think that was the biggest key. We didn’t do a very good of that the first couple periods.
“He did a great job on the forecheck. I guess that’s the biggest key — stay in front of the net and keep your stick down. He seems to find guys pretty good.’’
For Wheeler, the goal, his second of the season, capped a successful first night at center. He played the position in college, but had been mostly a left wing for his first two NHL seasons.
With David Krejci unavailable for at least another week because of a concussion, Wheeler could find himself between Recchi and Jordan Caron for the next few games.
Wheeler skated 20 shifts against the Penguins for 17:15 of ice time. He put two shots on goal, and after struggling early on faceoffs, he ended the night 7 for 14.
“I thought he did a great job,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “Very reliable. He was conscientious of what he had to do in his own end. At the same time, he scored a big goal for us. I was really happy with how he adapted.’’
Last night, Wheeler remained between Caron and Recchi. In 15:48 of ice time, he recorded two shots and three hits. Wheeler went 4 for 10 on faceoffs.
On Dec. 4 of last season, O’Byrne made headlines during the Canadiens’ centennial celebration. When his No. 3 was retired in honor of Emile Bouchard, O’Byrne pulled off his jersey to reveal a new No. 20 sweater.
“We all felt for him,’’ said Montreal goalie Carey Price. “He wasn’t playing. He wasn’t getting any ice time. That’s a tough way to play hockey, when you’re skating in the morning and you don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. I think I’m sad, but it’s a really good opportunity for him.’’
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from the Associated Press was used in this report.