CAPITAL ONE ARENA — The NHL announced Wednesday afternoon that Tom Wilson had received a 20-game suspension for his illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist during the Capitals’ final preseason game Sunday.
After Washington’s Wilson-less season-opening win Wednesday night, Capitals players voiced their support for their teammate.
Devante Smith-Pelly offered the strongest rebuke of the NHL.
“Honestly, I think it is garbage if I’m going to be honest,” Smith-Pelly said. “We watched a video from the league saying what hits are good and what aren’t. They showed some hits way worse than that, maybe not in force, but in regards to the head, that were so-called allowed. I guess he just has a different rulebook. It’s garbage, honestly.
“I think we all feel that he went through his shoulder,” Smith-Pelly continued. “The guy has a separated shoulder. He went through his shoulder. Just because it’s him doesn’t mean you have to make a statement or whatever. I mean, I don’t want to say anything too crazy, but it’s garbage.”
Many fans in Capital One Arena seemed to side with Smith-Pelly. Wilson received one of the largest cheers during the pregame player introductions.
Tom Wilson is on the ice and fully dressed at the banner-raising ceremony, which is going to go over really well with NHL fans, I'm sure. pic.twitter.com/GKHags7V95
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) October 3, 2018
A “Free Tom Wilson” chant rung through the stands in the third period as the Capitals wrapped up a 7-0 victory against the Boston Bruins.
“Free Tom Wilson” chant just broke out. pic.twitter.com/Vntpu8O4Q4
— Rudy Gersten (@DCBarno) October 4, 2018
T.J. Oshie referenced Bruins forward Brad Marchand’s late-game fight with Lars Eller in his own defense of Wilson.
“I think it’s unfortunate for Tom that the league is making an example out of him,” Oshie said. “They set the standards. They want to get the dirty stuff out of the game. At least Tom’s play was on the ice and he was hitting the guy that had the puck milliseconds before.
“And then you see tonight the sucker punches that Lars took in,” Oshie continued. “So they kind of set the standard. Marchand has a history, and we trust that they’ll do what they’re supposed to do and take care of business.”
Oshie said he learned about the suspension when he arrived in the locker room several hours before the game.
“Right when I found out I texted him right away, and when I saw him I went and gave him a hug and said, ‘I’m sorry,'” Oshie said. “It’s unfortunate. He wants to be out here with us. He earned a nice contract and now he’s losing a quarter of that. That’s too bad. We’re going to miss him. We’re going to miss him a lot out there, but he’ll be around.”
Evgeny Kuznetsov offered a more succinct response: “If I’m going to say what I think, they are going to suspend me too.”
Both Alex Ovechkin and coach Todd Reirden said they believed Wilson will appeal the suspension.
“It’s hard to talk right now because I don’t want to be the guy who is going to step, but I think it’s too much,” Ovechkin said.
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