Heavier Wheeler hopes to strengthen his game

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- It was just 2:55 into Thursday night's 4-1 season-opening loss to Washington when Boston Bruins forward Blake Wheeler crunched Capitals defenseman Brian Pothier behind the net on the forecheck.

In an otherwise forgetful game, the hit served notice that Wheeler may be ready to get more physical in his second NHL season. Wheeler totaled just 49 hits in 81 games last season, 15th on the club or about one fifth as many as Milan Lucic, who played 10 fewer games.

"You've got to pick your spots," Wheeler said after Friday's practice at Ristuccia Arena. He was credited with three hits against the Caps. "If you have a chance to finish a guy like that, it's real important to do that. It's energy, momentum for your team. A few times [Thursday] night, just by skating hard at the defenseman, our line created some turnovers and created some scoring chances just by having us kind of skate at him and finish him.

"The minute defensemen start hearing those footsteps, they start to think a little bit quicker and maybe get it off their stick a little bit faster than they want to. That's how you create turnovers and scoring chances."

Some might have expected the 6-foot-5-inch winger to make a bigger impact with his body last season as a rookie. But some guys just take longer to add that aspect to their games. This season, Wheeler might be better equipped for the rigors of being a physical presence; he reported to training camp at 205 pounds, about 10 pounds heavier (most of it muscle) than he weighed last season. And, unlike some players who bulk up and struggle to harness that extra strength in a positive way, Wheeler has started this season seamlessly.

"I don't think it's been really an adjustment at all," said Wheeler, who scored 21 regular-season goals last year but was scratched late in the playoffs after failing to score in eight games. "I think if you look at my body, it doesn't really look like I put any weight on. My body's structured that way. It's been a real positive for me in terms of just being able to handle the bumps and bruises and whatnot out there. I feel like I've gained a step as well and it's just all about utilizing that to your advantage out there."

Wheeler and his extra step combined with center David Krejci and right wing Michael Ryder to put heat on the Caps. But not enough shots made it on net and none found the back of the goal.

"We had chances," Wheeler said. "You want to be able to say that we created chances, that's a good thing, but you've got to be able bear down and bury some, especially when our team hasn't been scoring much.

"We've got to take it upon ourselves because we know we're capable of scoring. We want to go out and contribute to the team, and the best way to do that is compete all over the ice. That's how you get scoring chances, by creating those turnovers."

Drilling during drills

The Bruins went through a spirited practice Friday with a lot of players seemingly letting out their frustrations from Thursday night's loss. There was some particularly solid body contact in one 1-on-1 drill. Center Marc Savard took the ice 10 minutes early to fire some slap shots & After full-squad drills, four of the forwards who figure to get a chance to play on the second power-play unit --Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Mark Recchi and Chuck Kobasew (Recchi and Kobasew rotated in and out) worked on passing without a defender in order to build up some chemistry & Defenseman Derek Morris sported a bright red lump on the inside of his left foot courtesy of Washington's Alexander Ovechkin, but didn't look encumbered during the practice ... The Bruins announced Friday that the club has assigned goaltender Adam Courchaine to the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League, signed forward Lane MacDermid to a standard player contract (SPC) and signed defenseman Alain Goulet to an American Hockey League contract. MacDermid was the Bruins' third-round pick last June. Goulet was selected in the seventh round in 2004.