BOSTON — Boston Bruins rookie Blake Wheeler didn’t shy away from the fact that he didn’t play well enough today to earn more playing time in the third period and overtime.
After taking two early third-period shifts, Wheeler was pinned to the pine for the remainder of the contest. When asked by TheBruinsBlog.net after the Bruins’ 4-3 overtime loss to Philadelphia at TD Banknorth Garden if he was surprised he didn’t receive more ice time, Wheeler said:
“I don’t really know how to comment. I put the puck on the guy’s stick for the third goal. So I can understand, I guess,” said the rookie, who was averaging 13:52 of ice time coming in but skated for just 7:30 against the Flyers. “It’s not really up to me when I go out there. When he calls my name I try to go out there and do my best. And that’s all I can say.”
Wheeler failed to clear the puck on a penalty kill leading up to Scott Hartnell’s tying goal 6:25 into the second period. Wheeler also committed two minor penalties over the course of the first two periods.
A mature rookie at 22 years old, Wheeler was already looking ahead to better days within an hour of the Flyers potting the game-winner.
“The only way to respond is on Tuesday. So I guess we’ll see on Tuesday. Hopefully I can play well,” said Wheeler.
Head coach Claude Julien said that both Wheeler and linemate David Krejci didn’t warrant the ice time they usually get because of their lackluster play. But Krejci at least got off the bench for six shifts over the game’s final 23 minutes, including a couple overtime shifts. Julien, however, isn’t worried about Wheeler continuing on a downward trend.
“He’s going through the same stage as any first-year player will go through. He’s going through a bit of a tough stage here where he hasn’t scored much lately. I think maybe he’s looking a little tired; he’s not as strong on the puck as he has been,” said the coach. “He’s losing some battles, where at the beginning of the year you saw a guy winning most of those battles and using his size and strength to his advantage. But this is a process that I think we expected. And right now it’s up to him to try to work his way through it.”
Wheeler, who’s scored just two goals in the last 19 games, can take solace in the fact that good friend Phil Kessel was benched for an entire third period last winter in Pittsburgh and then famously sat out three playoff games in the spring. But Julien is willing to give every player a chance to win back his ice time.
“It is what it is. It’s his decision and he felt comfortable with the guys out there and I think they did a great job for us and we just had a couple bad bounces tonight,” Wheeler concluded.