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Caps are quick to defend Thornton's character, but still hated his hit on Oshie

Caps are quick to defend Thornton's character, but still hated his hit on Oshie

When a team leader goes down after an awkward check, chances are someone is going to be called to task. That was what happened on Monday between the Washington Capitals and the San Jose Sharks when Joe Thornton ended T.J. Oshie's night with a hit to the head.

While checking Logan Couture into the boards, Oshie lost his balance and his body and head went low to the ice. A trailing Thornton came in to finish his check and hit Oshie's head into the boards. The hit was a little late as the puck was already gone and the point of contact certainly looked like the head. But with Oshie being lower to the ice Thornton struck him with his butt. Not the butt of his stick, his actual butt.

Do you really think that was his plan?

The Caps didn't, evidently, as they were actually quick to defend Thornton after the game.

"Joe's not a dirty player," Barry Trotz said.

"He's an honest player," Tom Wilson said. "He was one of my favorite players growing up. He's what's good for the game."

Thornton is in the 20th season of his incredible career in which he has amassed 953 points. Whenever he decides to retire, if he is not a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, then the voters are doing something wrong. Bottom line, he's not a goon.

Given who he is and the respect he carries around the league, that changes the conversation as you can tell by the Caps' comments.

But that doesn't mean they were fine with the hit.

"In that instance, that hit, I didn't like personally and I don't think our team liked," Wilson said. "Anytime a guy is down, it's kind of a no-hit zone."

Wilson called Thornton to account for the hit in the third period and Thornton obliged as the two dropped the gloves and fought.

Whether there will be any supplementary discipline remains to be seen. Neither Wilson nor Trotz would comment on whether they felt the hit was dirty and Trotz said he would let the Department of Player Safety handle it.

Problem solved, right? Well, not for San Jose coach Pete DeBoer. DeBoer took issue with the fact that the Caps waited until the third period to demand satisfaction.

But to the Caps, a bad hit is a bad hit no matter when it happened.

"It looked like Osh was in a very vulnerable spot and he gets head contact," Wilson said. "That's what it is. That's the truth. That's the fact of the matter. Hockey's a sport where you're able to go out and stand up for your teammate."

He also threw in one more compliment Thornton's way.

"He stood up for himself afterwards and I respect him for that."

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are overcoming all obstacles, even the loss of Oshie

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are overcoming all obstacles, even the loss of Oshie

If you were to make a list of the players the Capitals could not afford to lose, chances are T.J. Oshie would be near the top of that list. Unfortunately, the Caps’ winger has missed the last six games due to an upper-body injury he suffered from a hit to the head by Joe Thornton.

Yet, even with Oshie out of the lineup the past six games, Washington has managed a 5-1-0 record.

SEE THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Oshie is the undisputed energy leader of the Caps. He was considered so important, in fact, that a team with significant salary cap constraints still elected to re-sign him in the offseason to an eight-year, $46 million deal that carries a $5.75 million cap hit.

Oshie’s injury, however, has not cooled off the red-hot Caps who have now won 11 of their last 14 games. It is still clear the team is missing him—their 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders in which the Caps lacked any energy at all is evidence of that—but the way the team has been able to rally without him is impressive.

If Washington can win five out of six without Oshie, how much better will they be once he gets back into the lineup?

The Caps keep winning and that means they keep climbing in the NHL Power Rankings. See how high they climb in this week’s rankings here.

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Was Evgeny Kuznetsov even trying to shoot on his game-tying goal?

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Was Evgeny Kuznetsov even trying to shoot on his game-tying goal?

What is the one knock on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s game?

You know what it is. Everybody say it with me now: He needs to shoot the puck more.

It’s no secret what fans want the talented Russian forward to do.

They yell it from the stands of Capital One Arena or when they watching the TV braodcast at home.

Heck, Barry Trotz has talked about it to the media before.

That’s what made Saturday’s win over the Anaheim Ducks so refreshing.

With Washington down 2-1 in the third, Jakub Vrana found Kuznetsov in the slot and he buried it into the net behind Ducks goalie John Gibson. He even had Tom Wilson on the back door to pass to, but he chose instead to shoot the puck. That shows that he…wait, what’s that?

“I think Kuzy was, on his goal, I think he was trying to make one more pass,” Trotz said after the game.

No way. This is just the head coach being tongue-in-cheek, right?

Watch the replay and see for yourself:

RELATED: 5 REASONS THE CAPS BEAT THE DUCKS

Oh. Yeah, that was definitely a pass.

Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano reaches in to try and get his stick in the way of the shot and the puck deflects off his stick and into the net. If you watch, however, the puck was never intended to go on net. Instead, Kuznetsov was trying to get it to Wilson on the back door.

CAPS EXTRA PODCAST: GAME 34 VS. DUCKS

At this moment, Kuznetsov still has the puck on his stick, but the blade of the stick is not facing the goal. It is facing Wilson.

The fact that he has not yet released the puck at this point means he’s not aiming for the goal.

While aiming at Wilson, Cogliano’s stick gets in the way and deflects it on net.

Could Kuznetsov have gotten that puck to Wilson? Defenseman Kevin Bieksa is in the passing lane, but if anyone could thread that needle, it’s Kuznetsov. The point , however, is that passing here is the wrong decision.

Kuznetsov has the opportunity to shoot from a high-danger area. Wilson would have had a layup if Kuznetsov had gotten him the puck, but trying to pass through Bieksa is a much more difficult play. If you already have the puck in a high-danger area with an opportunity to shoot, you need to take that opportunity.

The bad news is Kuznetsov was trying to pass up a scoring chance for a more difficult play to set up a teammate. The good news is that it didn't matter. Cogliano’s effort to try to defend the shot ended up putting the puck into the back of the net thus saving Kuznetsov from making the wrong decision.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, but there’s still a lesson here for Kuznetsov on why shooting the puck is the better option.