Photo: Geoff Burke
Tom Wilson is now in his third full NHL season. He was supposed to be bruising power forward and a complement to top-six playmakers. Instead, the 16th overall pick in 2012 has been a fourth line agitator almost his entire career, fighting and hitting to try to get himself noticed in limited ice time.
On Saturday night, that almost cost the Capitals the game as Wilson, recently demoted back down to the bottom trio, took a double minor for roughing that put his team a man down late in the game. The Maple Leafs scored on the power play that followed, giving themselves a 2-1 lead that would gotten them the victory if not for a stunning goal by Nicklas Backstrom with less than a second left.
“When emotions get tied into close games, that’s how you don’t play,” Barry Trotz said of Wilson’s tomfoolery. “That’s why Tom never saw the ice again. He knows that and hopefully he learns from that.”
Let’s break down what happened.
Three minutes and six seconds into the third period, Wilson took his first penalty, an unsportsmanlike conduct minor, after consecutive faceoff kerfuffles with Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. Going to the penalty box with the Leafs’ first pairing defenseman is a good tradeoff, but Wilson was clearly goaded into the melee. The two continued arguing in the box.
“It was a pretty hard game,” Wilson said when I asked him about the play. “Phaneuf got into it, gets a free shot on me. I just felt I could respond a little bit there. We get taken off.”
“I thought I was having a pretty good game,” he added. “I had lots of energy, I was finishing checks, they were turning pucks over up until that point. Phaneuf’s coming after me. When you get attention from their top players you’re doing something right.”
The next shift, however, Wilson does something wrong.
Wilson got dropped to the ice by Nazem Kadri while crashing the net. Kadri continued to needle Wilson until the Caps enforcer lost his composure and put the Leafs player in a headlock. Wilson and Kadri both took roughing minors, but Wilson was given an extra two minutes.
The Maple Leafs scored on ensuing the power play. Wilson was benched by Trotz when he got out of the box, finishing with just 12 shifts and a team-low 6:38 of ice time. The only shifts he took in the third period resulted in penalties.
“I was expecting it to be two offsetting penalties,” Wilson said of the play. “He kinda slams my head into the ice, rips my helmet off. I just grabbed him. I didn’t throw punches. I just got to take it as learning a lesson. You can’t really engage with guys like that anymore. It’s a fine line with a skill guy like that. Obviously he’s not going to fight. I think the refs see us going at and see the opportunity to give me an extra one. It’s just not a situation I should put myself in. I don’t have to go over there at all.”
Wilson has often looked like a guy who does stuff for the sake of doing stuff, be it a big hit or trying to get in his first fight of the year. Saturday, he crossed the line. The Capitals almost lost because of it. But in talking to me after the game, it seems like Wilson may have finally realized that he should be a hockey player, not a goon.
Additional reporting by Ian Oland.
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