BOSTON -- Can the Czech Republic get Blake Wheeler dual citizenship in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics?
The Minnesota-sports-loving, video-game-playing Wheeler probably wouldn't want to relinquish his American ties, but playing with Czech centers does seem to bring out the best in the 23-year-old Bruins winger.
As a rookie last season, Wheeler produced most of his 21 goals with David Krejci as his pivot. He's coming on offensively again, this time with Vladimir Sobotka serving as his "Czech mate." Sobotka set up Wheeler's goal, which broke a scoreless tie, and Wheeler returned the favor during the Bruins' 2-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden.
With Daniel Paille completing the trio, Wheeler and Sobotka are starting to show some real chemistry.
"I think now we are starting to understand where we are going to be more, kind of the tendencies of each other's game. Once you know those things, it's second nature," said Wheeler, who has a team-high four goals on the season despite ranking 19th on the club in average ice time (12:42).
Sobotka was having a tough time at wing when he was first called up from Providence. Shifting to center has made him into a better player, one who's around the puck on offense and defense and makes his presence felt physically. And that opens up space for the speedsters Wheeler and Paille.
For all their efforts through the first 40 minutes against the Oilers, however, the Sobotka line had nothing to show for it. The horn sounded at the end of the second period before Sobotka beat Nikolai Khabibulin with a shot from the doorstep. Sobotka admitted to being "a little bit frustrated." But luckily neither he nor his linemates stopped working hard.
Early in the third period, Sobotka warded off defenseman Theo Peckham below the goal line before finding Wheeler with a backhand pass for the first goal at 2:47. Then Sobotka scored on a 2-on-1 by driving to the net and redirecting Wheeler's pass back 4:15 later.
"We had a great shift at the end of the [second] period," said Wheeler. "About 25 seconds of nonstop pressure on the goalie and we were about a second short from getting a goal there. I think we were really feeling good about our game, feeling really good about ourselves the first two periods. Sometimes it just takes hard work to get rewarded and the third period we were rewarded."