Friday, September 22 2023

‘That’s just Tom’s DNA’: Wilson still setting tone for Capitals originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON — For much of the season, the Capitals missed the physicality and well-rounded scoring threat that Tom Wilson brought to the ice. The right winger sat out the first 42 games recovering from offseason ACL surgery. He returned in late December only for the team to fall out of the playoff race in the second half.

Even with the season winding down now that the Capitals have been eliminated from postseason contention, Wilson has made his presence felt over their last few games, particularly on the physical front. In addition to registering a point on both of their goals in the Capitals’ 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday, he also led the team in hits (four), shots (four) and penalty minutes (four).

“He’s a great player to play with,” Dylan Strome said after the game. “He’s a great guy to have on your team and not a very fun guy to play against. He had some big hits. He turns momentum for us in tons of ways on the ice. He kills penalties and plays on the first power play unit. That’s a good hockey player.”

Some players may struggle to find motivation to play hard at the end of a lost season. Wilson isn’t one of them.

“There’s a pride putting on the jersey every night, playing in the NHL, playing for an organization like this,” Wilson said. “The motivation should be there to go out there and try and win on home ice on Saturday night. They have a bunch of pests over there that make it easy to get up for the game but other than that we just want to win games.”

The Capitals and Panthers have some history; the latter knocked Washington out of the first round of the playoffs last season in a chippy six-game series. Florida was also the team that secured the fateful points Tuesday that mathematically eliminated the Capitals from Wild Card contention. Each of the three games between them this season have been slugfests.

Wilson treated the contest like any other, bringing his uncompromising playing style to the rink in an effort to will the Capitals to a couple of points in the standings. At times, that meant getting into a few scraps to stick up both for himself and his teammates.

Wilson has spent 28 minutes in the penalty box over his last five games including 17 in Thursday’s 6-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens for instigating after he took exception to a hit on Nic Dowd. Then Saturday he was called for roughing after Panthers right wing Givani Smith swung at him from the bench, prompting them both to drop the gloves.

“Honestly, I don’t know what’s going on for like rules-wise,” Wilson said. “The other night I ask a guy to fight, I square up, I get 17 minutes. I get punched from the bench on the way on a line change and we kill three consecutive penalties. So, it’s tough. You try and go out there and work as hard as you can and take pride in your game, but things happen and kind of had a bit of that playoff feel where it was getting chippy and there was some big hits and stuff. But I’m just trying to out my head down and work.”

But as he’s proven throughout his tenure in Washington, Wilson has much more to his game than his ability to drop the gloves. He recorded the primary assist on Strome’s game-opening goal Saturday before scoring off the rush on a deflection up front. He brought a high-energy approach from the start and his teammates responded by turning in a well-fought game that just slipped away in the final minute of regulation.

“I think that’s just Tom’s DNA and his nature,” head coach Peter Laviolette said. “He plays the game hard. He plays physical. We count on him for a lot of different things: penalty kill and power play and physicality and toughness and offense. And so we count on him for a lot of different things. He seems to have gotten better. The more he’s played, the more natural and comfortable he seems getting away from the injury he had at the beginning of the year.”

Source: Yahoo Sports


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