NEWARK, N.J. — Defenceman Chris Wideman knows that he’s fighting to keep a job in the NHL next season — whether it’s with the Canadiens or another team.
He certainly helped his case in Thursday night’s 7-4 victory over the New Jersey Devils by scoring a goal, adding two assists and finishing plus-2 while logging 17:07 of ice time.
Wideman had been a healthy scratch for the previous two games, but got back in the lineup because Justin Barron was out with a lower-body injury and Jordan Harris was made a healthy scratch. Kale Clague, who had missed the previous 13 games with an upper-body injury, also returned to the lineup and had a goal and two assists while finishing plus-3.
“No matter young, old, you want to be in every game,” Wideman said. “You want to be out there with your buddies and fighting and trying to get wins. So I was really excited to get in tonight and just get back out there with the group. It was a lot of fun.”
Head coach Martin St. Louis has been juggling nine defencemen and said Wideman wasn’t scratched because he had been playing poorly. It was simply a numbers game.
“I’m so lucky and blessed to be here and have this opportunity,” said Wideman, who played last season with the KHL’s Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo and was named the league’s top defenceman. “I mean, I was paying for my own sticks last year, so I fully appreciate being on this team, and any time you have an opportunity to be in the lineup it’s special. So just a little bit of a reset and then tonight just come in and try to do my job and contribute to the team.”
Wideman signed a one-year, US$750,000 contract with the Canadiens and the 32-year-old can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. In 56 games this season, he has 4-21-25 totals to rank fifth in team scoring.
When asked about the balancing act between being a good teammate and helping rookies Harris and Barron while also being concerned about his own future, Wideman said: “I think the best way to leave a mark is to be the best teammate you could be. So whatever they need. I’ve gone out of my way to make sure that those guys are comfortable and they understand — whether it’s terminology or things that Marty’s kind of looking for. Those things come back. It’s not why you do it, because I was in their shoes at one point and I remember being a little overwhelmed. These guys have come in and done a good job and they’re awesome people, too. So I’ve enjoyed getting to know them.”
It was also a good night for the Canadiens’ No. 1 line of Nick Suzuki between Cole Caufield and Rem Pitlick. Suzuki and Caufield both had a goal and an assist, while Pitlick had one assist.
Caufield now has 17 goals this season and 16 in the 26 games since St. Louis took over as head coach. The 21-year-old has regained his swagger on the ice and also off the ice, showing up for the game in an all-black suit and matching fedora.
“He’s got a pretty good style game ever since he came to us,” Suzuki said. “When he plays with a swagger and confidence he’s a lot of fun to watch, a lot of fun to play with. He’s going to be a big part of the team in the future, and when he’s playing like that he’s tough to stop.”
Wideman is only 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, but he hasn’t been afraid to get involved when the going gets tough. Thursday night he got into a bit of a skirmish with former Canadien P.K. Subban.
“I like the wolf-pack mentality,” Wideman said. “One’s in, we’re all in. I think you started to see that a little bit. I’ve said it before: we’re a group that really enjoys each other, and regardless of the standings we’re sticking up for each other and playing hard every night.
“If we let Nick or Cole take sh–, then they take sh– the rest of the year. So we got to stick up for our guys. When teams know that if they’re going to mess with guys we’re all going to be there to support each other, so it would be in the back of their mind.”
St. Louis spoke before the game about the difficult job of juggling so many defencemen. After the game, Wideman spoke about how much he admires the way the coach has done that.
“He’s direct,” Wideman said. “He’s not sending anybody else to do his communicating. He’ll speak to you directly. He was in our shoes. He was a lot better than most of us, but he knows what it’s like to be a player and he treats us with a lot of respect, and we have a lot of respect for him because of that.”
You have to have a lot of respect for Chris Wideman.
Canadiens pick up another win under coach Martin St. Louis in New Jersey
Canadiens’ rookie Jordan Harris made a healthy scratch against Devils