The Capitals are using the three-game suspension levied against Tom Wilson as a rallying point heading into Game 4 of their second-round series against the rival Penguins.
PITTSBURGH – On Day 1 of Life Without Tom Wilson (Again), the Washington Capitals hardened their resolve and vowed to move on without the player who had been taking over their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. And it’s not as though they’re giving up that much in the way of size with his replacement on the top line. Wilson is 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds and Devante Smith-Pelly is six feet and 223 pounds. “Physicality, too,” Alex Ovechkin said when asked what Smith-Pelly will bring to the right side of the line. “He’s a big boy.”
With the three-game suspension announced by the NHL Tuesday night, Wilson will be out until Game 7 of the series if it goes the distance. If not, he’ll be back in the Eastern Conference final or next season. And he will be missed. His impact on Game 3 was immeasurable, even without counting his slew-foot on Olli Maatta that set up the 2-on-1 that led to the winning goal.
The Capitals are intent on using Wilson’s absence as a rallying point for them. They obviously feel aggrieved by the sentence and will try to win one for The Crippler™.
“It fires me up that he’s not out there with us,” said Capitals teammate T.J. Oshie. “I expect a certain level of hunger and determination out there from the group. I think the boys are fired up. I think any arrogance that could have come from our last couple of victories, I think has been squashed from the fact that we’re losing Tom. He’s been taken away from us for a couple of games and we’re fired up and we want to win a game for him.”
But Oshie was just getting started. He was asked what he thought about the discipline levied against Wilson and gave a passionate treatise on the state of the game, using Wilson’s sentence as a backdrop. “I think it’s pretty extreme…I think it’s very extreme, actually,” Oshie said. “I think it’s two guys who see each other. They both go to hit each other and usually one guy loses that battle. I’ve been on both ends of it. It’s a physical game and it seems little by little we’re taking physicality out of the game.”
Oshie said he agrees that the “stupid hits, the unnecessary hits” need to be taken out of the game, but doesn’t think the Wilson hit fell under that category. “This is playoff time,” he said. “It’s man versus man. One guy falls down and that’s just the way it goes.”
Oshie said if he’s out against a player such as Wilson, he knows that if he gets a puck in a certain situation, he knows where that player is on the ice. “I think that’s part of playing in the NHL, I think that’s part of being a mature, aware player,” Oshie said. “I think we have too many players who think they can just go out and do whatever they want and if anyone touches them it’s going to be a penalty or a suspension. I think there has to be more emphasis on guys aware of their surroundings. I am 100 percent in agreement about the hits to the head that are unnecessary, are directly targeted and you can tell they’re targeted. But I’m completely against taking physicality from the game. Everyone talks about the game getting faster, stronger. Well, hits are going to get faster and stronger. Tom is one of the best at it and he gets punished for it, sometimes because people are unaware and other times just because he’s stronger than other people.”
Oshie also has a problem with the inconsistencies in which headshot punishments are enforced, which is something that confounds pretty much everyone who watches hockey. He said there has been a number of times he’s received headshots that have gone completely unpunished.
“Yes, his head gets hit, but there have been a million where I’ve gotten hit,” Oshie said. “I go to the ref and I say I got hit in the head and the ref just says, ‘He’s bigger than you. That’s just the way it goes.’ I’ve gotten blown up a couple of times this year and I didn’t complain when I thought it was a monster hit…and not a word was said because there shouldn’t have been.”
As far as the Pittsburgh side of the room, Aston-Reese is obviously out for the rest of the playoffs, but the Penguins look poised to put speedy Carl Hagelin back in the lineup for Game 4. That will leave the Penguins forward lines for tonight looking something like this:
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Patric Hornqvist
Carl Hagelin-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel
Conor Sheary-Derrick Brassard-Bryan Rust
Dominik Simon-Riley Sheahan-Tom Kuhnhackl
With Wilson out and rookie Shane Gersich drawing in tonight, here’s how the Capitals lines look:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Devante Smith-Pelly
Chandler Stephenson-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana-Lars Eller-Brett Connolly
Shane Gersich-Jay Beagle-Alex Chiasson
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