Tom Wilson was one of the Capitals biggest surprises of the 2017-18 regular season, registering a career high in goals (14), assists (21), and points (35). During the second half of the season, Wilson cemented a spot on the Caps top line with Alex Ovechkin after posting a 51 shot-attempts percentage (third highest among Caps forwards).
But Wilson also set a career high in penalty minutes (187 PIMs). Taking a team-high 41 minor penalties, Wilson also drew a team-high 52 minors on opposing players.
Wilson’s penchant for high-event hockey makes him a game changer, but sometimes not for the good. For instance, during Games One and Two against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Wilson took two crucial and unnecessary penalties that led directly to Columbus comebacks.
During Game One, Wilson charged Alexander Wennberg, making contact with the forward’s head. The hit was seemingly unnecessary and the Capitals paid for it.
The minor led to a Thomas Vanek power-play goal, which tied the game 2-2 in the third period.
The Capitals would later lose 4-3 in overtime.
During Game Two, Wilson tackled Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones to the ice, earning a roughing penalty.
Cam Atkinson scored on the resulting power play to tie the game 3-3.
The Capitals lost Game Two 5-4 in overtime.
Barry Trotz addressed Wilson’s penalty problems and offered a lengthy defense of his player after the Capitals’ morning skate before Game Three.
“Tom can be a force physically,” Trotz said. “Obviously we need him. He is one of our top penalty killers so we don’t need him in the box. We just talked about the effect and the timing of penalties and when he does that, he can be a force. He can make life miserable for a lot of people.
“We are hoping he walks the line, but not over the line,” Trotz continued. “He is a player that does that. He understands. He knows that a couple penalties that have occurred were not great timing and sometimes those results end up in the back of your net. We talked on the plane yesterday about some of the things he can have a real good effect with, and make sure he is in a positive place. He is going to have a positive effect on every game and he can. He is a really good young player and a leader on our team.”
Trotz also pointed to Wilson’s success against the Toronto Maple Leafs during last year’s postseason and how the Caps forward can use his powers for good.
“Obviously he is a physical force. He is one of the few guys in the league that has that ability,” Trotz said. “He is not a fourth line player. He is playing on our top line and he has been very effective. I expect him to have the series, the effect he had last year in the first series. That type of game that he had that effect on the Leafs, I hope he can have the effect on the Jackets.”
Wilson addressed his lack of discipline as well.
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“I’m not stupid. [Barry]’s not stupid. You guys aren’t stupid,” Wilson said. “First of all, I’m on the penalty kill so when I’m in the box I can’t penalty kill. Second of all, it’s huge when you give that team an opportunity to be a man up in a playoff game.
“I can have that self kind of pity of Why me? There are so many scrums throughout the whole game and I kind of get the one where the refs are trying to draw a line in the sand and say no more,” Wilson continued. “That’s the way it is. They look at me, see me, and it’s go to the box. I’ve got to be a lot smarter. I’ve got to walk that line, play aggressive, and be effective for this team. I can’t be in the box.”
Wilson, offensively, also experienced some bad luck during Game Two. The burly winger appeared tentative on a three-on-one break with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, muffing a huge scoring chance.
Later in overtime, Wilson whiffed on a one-timer with a wide-open net. A goal there would have tied the series.
While Wilson has had notable mistakes, the stats suggest he’s playing well overall. Wilson has a 57.1 shot attempts percentage through two games and has fired seven shot attempts by himself.
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