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Seidenberg shows lift in Bruins' debut

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / March 6, 2010

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For one of his first Black-and-Gold acts, Dennis Seidenberg, trying to shake off forechecking heat, backhanded a riser that sailed over the glass and plopped into the TD Garden stands at 11:10 of the first period Thursday.

Welcome to Boston.

“I’m pretty sure he wasn’t too pleased with that over-the-glass penalty,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “It’s a tough way for him to start.’’

The finish turned out to be better for the newest Bruin. By the end of the night, Seidenberg, acquired from Florida Wednesday along with the rights to collegian Matt Bartkowski for Byron Bitz, Craig Weller, and a 2010 second-round pick, was rolling over the boards to congratulate Tim Thomas, knowing he played a significant role in the Bruins’ 3-2 shootout win over Toronto.

“All right,’’ Seidenberg said of his Boston debut. “Except for shooting the puck out of the rink. Just try to keep it simple. First game, you always try to do that. It was all right.’’

Aside from his delay-of-game infraction, it was a quiet but steady night for the 28-year-old defenseman. Seidenberg, playing on Zdeno Chara’s right side, skated a total of 25 minutes 35 seconds, most of any Bruin, and 25 seconds more than his new partner, the team’s leader in ice time. Seidenberg didn’t stand out, but that appears to be the nature of his no-nonsense, blue-collar approach.

“I liked his game,’’ Julien said. “He seemed solid tonight. He’s a physical player. When you don’t see glaring mistakes from the player, it’s usually a good sign.’’

For his entire pro career, Seidenberg has been just that - an under-the-radar defenseman who’s often been overlooked, by his employers and others. In 2001, Philadelphia drafted Seidenberg with the 172d overall pick (seven slots before the Bruins drafted Andrew Alberts), believing the German defenseman could develop into a depth NHLer. But after three seasons in the Flyers organization, Seidenberg was traded to Phoenix Jan. 20, 2006, for veteran forward Petr Nedved. Just under a year later, Phoenix flipped Seidenberg to Carolina for Kevyn Adams.

Last season, Seidenberg had his most productive NHL season. In 70 games, he scored five goals and added 25 assists. Seidenberg averaged 22:19 of ice time, third on the team behind Joni Pitkanen (24:48) and Joe Corvo (24:19). In the playoffs, Seidenberg skated on coach Paul Maurice’s second defensive pairing, playing the role of stay-at-home while allowing Pitkanen to join the rush. Seidenberg, as one of Carolina’s stouter two-way, mobile defensemen, was a big reason the Hurricanes upset the Bruins in the second round.

“Sound defensively,’’ Seidenberg recalled of last year’s Bruins. “They really wait for the other team to make mistakes or turnovers, then jump on them. It’s a tough team to play against.’’

For all that, the Hurricanes let the unrestricted free agent walk. Instead of re-signing Seidenberg, Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford restocked his blue line with thumpers such as Alberts and Aaron Ward. But Rutherford wasn’t the only GM to overlook Seidenberg. Peter Chiarelli kicked the tires on Seidenberg and contacted J.P. Barry, the defenseman’s agent last summer. But the Bruins passed, and Seidenberg remained unemployed until Sept. 14, several days after training camps had kicked off.

The Panthers quickly recognized that Seidenberg, despite his late arrival, would be a go-to guy on defense. Coach Pete DeBoer tabbed Seidenberg to be his every-situation workhorse. Prior to being traded to the Bruins, Seidenberg averaged 22:54 of ice time, tops on the Florida blue line. Seidenberg had 23 points, a reflection of the improvement the Bruins saw in his offensive game.

“I guess,’’ Seidenberg said when informed that Chiarelli’s seen an uptick in his skill. “I think I played the same way last year. I try to do everything a little bit.’’

But Seidenberg also proved to be tough in his zone, where he’s blocked a league-most 179 shots.

“Just something I do,’’ Seidenberg said. “I’ve never really thought about it. I just get in shooting lanes and try to block shots. Pucks have been hitting me, so that’s good. I’ve never really focused on it. Just something I try to do. I’ve never really practiced it.’’

For most of 2008-09, Julien deployed Chara and Ward as his shutdown duo. Although Chara would rack up 50 points (28 on the power play), neither he nor Ward were called upon to move the puck and trigger the offense; that job belonged to Dennis Wideman (50 points).

This season, the Bruins didn’t view Chara and Derek Morris as being a comparable shutdown pairing. At times, the coaching staff even had to split them up to balance the other two pairings. To calm Wideman’s yips, the coaches paired him with Chara. Accordingly, Morris was used to settle down Matt Hunwick.

The plan, however, is to stick with Chara and Seidenberg as the matchup pair. Although Seidenberg isn’t as good a passer as Morris, he is a bigger physical presence and more mobile. On Thursday, Chara and Seidenberg kept Phil Kessel off the score sheet. This afternoon against the Islanders, the pair should see ice time against Matt Moulson, John Tavares, and Richard Park, New York’s top scoring line. Although Chara and Seidenberg played efficiently in their first game together, more will be demanded from Boston’s four remaining defensemen, who struggled against the Leafs.

“I think we have to play a little bit more solid defensively,’’ Seidenberg said. “We turned the puck over a lot in the neutral zone, so we can do a better job doing that, and just being more aggressive in board battles and one-on-ones. So overall, we’ve got to play the game with more energy and just be simpler.’’

The Bruins promoted Brad Marchand from Providence yesterday. Marchand (one assist in 12 NHL games) traveled with the team to Long Island and will be available today. The energy forward has 13 goals and 19 assists in 34 games for Providence. Also joining the team was goaltender Dany Sabourin, who cleared re-entry waivers at yesterday’s noon deadline. Sabourin will serve as Tim Thomas’s backup while Tuukka Rask remains sidelined because of a knee injury. Matt Dalton, brought up from the ECHL on an emergency basis Thursday, was assigned to Providence.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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