The Pittsburgh Penguins made a big addition in early August, adding star defenseman Erik Karlsson in a blockbuster three-team trade. After five seasons with the San Jose Sharks, Karlsson will jump headlong into the Caps-Pens rivalry when the two teams face off for Washington’s season opener on October 13th.
Tom Wilson, for one, is ready. During a radio interview with TSN 1050’s First Up, Wilson gave his thoughts on the trade and what it meant for the rivalry.
Reigning Norris winner or not, Wilson has no plans to make it easy for Karlsson.
“Karlsson’s obviously an elite talent and someone that, as a hockey player, you always kind of enjoy watching play,” Wilson said. “He’s super skilled and does things that are next level. But at the end of the day, he’s a rival now and we’ll try and make his life difficult back there as a Capital.”
After several relatively uneventful seasons in San Jose, Karlsson recorded the best season of his career in 2022-23 to reestablish himself as one of the league’s best defensemen. Karlsson passed the 100 point mark for the first time in his career, scoring 101 points (26g, 76a), and earned the third Norris Trophy of his career. He ultimately requested a trade from the rebuilding Sharks before landing in Pittsburgh.
Both the Capitals and the Penguins will have plenty to prove this fall as they struggle to deal with injuries and aging core players. Neither team made the postseason this spring for the first time since 2005-06, breaking extended playoff streaks for both franchises in the process.
Pittsburgh responded by firing much of their front office and bringing in former Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas, while Washington parted ways with Peter Laviolette in favor of former Bears head coach Spencer Carbery. Despite recent struggles, Wilson’s excited as ever to compete against old foes and new acquisitions alike.
“There’s always that rivalry,” Wilson explained. “It’s always fun to play those guys. As long as Sid and Ovi are playing, it’s always a special night, and one that you circle on the calendar. So it’ll be cool to have [Karlsson] be a part of that rivalry.”
Host Matt Cauz probed further into comparisons between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, asking Wilson which player was the better chirper.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Wilson said, laughing. “I’d say they’re much different. You never know what Ovi’s going to come up with. Sid’s pretty quiet out there for the most part. Every once in a while he’ll get fired up, but he sticks to his game and he’s not too vocal.”
Though the rivalry’s gotten plenty chippy over the years, Wilson admitted that Crosby’s generally kept his play above-board when Cauz asked if the Penguins captain was a “sneaky-dirty” player.
“I think every hockey player has a trick or two up their sleeve to defend themselves or be a guy that can go out and play with some sandpaper,” Wilson said. “That’s just kind of how we are. And he’s had a big target on his back for a long time. So I’m sure he has to do some stuff to create space, but he’s an all-time great player in the game.
“We haven’t had — for how many times we’ve played each other and gone back and forth in that rivalry — we haven’t had too many run-ins. He’s always been pretty classy, a respected player, at least from my perspective.”
October’s home opener will also feature Lars Eller’s homecoming game after the Capitals sent him to the Colorado Avalanche in a deadline deal this March. Eller signed a two-year deal with the Penguins in free agency, switching sides of the rivalry after seven seasons in Washington.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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