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Wilson is ready to prove he's more than just a goon as he returns to the lineup

Wilson is ready to prove he's more than just a goon as he returns to the lineup

This is a big season for Tom Wilson. As a former first-round pick whose career high is currently seven goals, the team is ready to see more production out of him. A four-game suspension is not the way he wanted things to start.

”It obviously wasn't the best start to the year for me,” Wilson said. “A little bit of adversity out of the gates.”

Everyone knows about Wilson’s physical presence on the ice. Chances are if you have not been following him throughout his career, you may think of Wilson as nothing more than a “goon,” a physical player who brings nothing more to the table than big hits and the occasional fight.

What you may not know, however, is that Wilson was a first-round draft pick in 2012 and it wasn’t because of his checking ability. In his last season in the OHL, Wilson tallied 58 points in 48 games.

RELATED: DJOOS MADE A GOOD IMPRESSION ON HIS TEAMMATES IN HIS FIRST GAME

If anyone doubts the impact Wilson can have on the team, they need only go back to the Caps’ playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Down 2-1 in the series, Washington entered a must-win situation in Game 4 on the road. Head coach Barry Trotz moved Wilson from the fourth line to the third and he responded with two goals and a goal-saving diving stop on the goal line as a puck trickled past Braden Holtby.

That’s the player the team was hoping to see more of this season.

“Enough people call you a goon, you want to get out there and prove to them that you can score some goals,” Wilson said to reporters after practice on Thursday. “That's always been a part of my game. There's always been that, can he play? Is he just physical? Can he play? I want to continue to develop my game. I want to continue to be rounded into that all-around player and now more than ever in hockey, you've got to be able to play, you've got to be able to produce offensively.”

This was the goal coming into the season, but a rough preseason made it hard for even the most optimistic Wilson supporter to defend his play.

Coming into the preseason, Wilson had never been suspended by the league. Now he has two suspensions to his name, the second of which cost him the first four games of the regular season.

The two suspensions were particularly frustrating to Wilson as someone who studies his own hits after games to make sure they remain clean.

“For the majority of four seasons you watch pretty much every one of my hits and frame by frame, tenth by tenth seconds and you can't find one thing that's wrong with it,” Wilson said. “They're textbook body checks broken down even slow.”

As Wilson now prepares to return to the Capitals’ lineup, he says he has gotten the message the league has tried to send him.

“It's my job to adapt,” Wilson said. “It's my job to kind of watch that and make sure that I'm finishing checks cleanly. The hitting is part of the game and it's part of my game and I'm going to continue to do it, I've just got to be a little bit smarter and make sure I'm out there with the team not kind of sitting in the stands watching.”

That is very different from the tone Wilson took after his first suspension when he almost defiantly declared he would not change his game.

For his part, Trotz says he expects to see the same Wilson, just smarter.

“He's going to be a big body, hard to handle, he's going to be physical, he's going to be a good penalty killer, detailed, all those things. I don't expect him to change other than just some decisions on some of the guys coming in. He puts the little bit of you know who when they see him coming. He's a big man. He's a huge man who can really get around the ice and he hits like a truck.”

MORE CAPITALS: HOLTBY WAS NOT HAPPY ABOUT CROSBY'S HIT

Trotz said he anticipated Wilson to move into the third line at right wing to play alongside Lars Eller and Brett Connolly. Alex Chiasson practiced on the fourth line Thursday with Jay Beagle and Devante Smith-Pelly.

Wilson is going to get the bigger role he expected to spark the third line and he is hoping he can prove that he is more than just a physical player.

“I've still got 78 games ahead of us here,” Wilson said, “And I've got to make the most of those and make sure I kind of almost make up for lost time here and get after it.”

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Game 33: Capitals at Bruins Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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USA TODAY Sports

Game 33: Capitals at Bruins Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Boston Bruins

Where: TD Garden, Boston, Mass.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Bruins will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Bruins game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

You can also stream the game online with no cable TV subscription on fuboTV (try for free!).

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BRUINS GAME?

The Capitals (19-12-1) take on the Bruins (15-9-4) Thursday, December 14 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Boston.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BRUINS GAME ON?

The Capitals-Bruins game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Capitals GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington following the game for Caps Extra, Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals at Bruins
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:00 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BRUINS GAME?

The Capitals-Bruins game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

The game is also available to stream, along with all the pregame and postgame shows, on fuboTV (try for free).

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR CAPITALS-BRUINS?

Here are the Caps' projected lines:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Alex Chiasson
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - John Carlson
Christian Djoos - Madison Bowey

Goalies
Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: T.J. Oshie (upper-body injury), Taylor Chorney

CAPITALS-BRUINS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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Tuesday's win shows just how far the Caps have come since the last time they played the Avalanche

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USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday's win shows just how far the Caps have come since the last time they played the Avalanche

The Caps have come a long way in the past month.

On Nov. 16, the Capitals lost 6-2 to the Colorado Avalanche in Colorado. The game was not as close as the score indicated. Not only was it a bad loss, it felt like a significant one.

Over the course of an 82-game season, every team is going to have a lot of losses. Some of those losses are not going to be close. But given the fact that just one night before, the Caps were handed a 6-3 loss at the hands of the Nashville Predators, the loss to the Avalanche did not feel like a blip on the radar. It had all the feelings of a downward trend.

LISTEN TO THE LATEST CAPITALS EXTRA PODCAST BREAKING DOWN THE CAPS' WIN OVER COLORADO

In hindsight, that game was in fact significant, but not because it signaled the unstoppable downward spiral of an aging team in need of a rebuild. Instead, it marked the moment the Caps turned their season around.

Since that loss in Colorado, Washington has gone 9-3-0. Since those ugly back-to-back losses, they have not lost consecutive games since.

And then on Monday, they hosted that same Colorado team that looked as if it had ended the Caps’ season in mid-November. The new-look Caps disposed of Colorado with relative ease by a score of 5-2.

After the game, it did not take long for November’s loss to come up.

“I guess we do better at this altitude than over there,” John Carlson said.

Matt Niskanen said the Caps had “our butts kicked” by the Avalanche and Barry Trotz said that they "handed us our lunch last time" and felt that motivated his team to respond in the rematch.

Considering how Washington looked the last time these two teams met, it would be hard for the Caps to respond much better than what they did on Tuesday.

MORE CAPITALS: 3 REASONS THE CAPS BEAT THE AVALANCHE

In November’s game, Washington had no answer for Colorado's top line. Nathan MacKinnon had a five-point night and Gabriel Landeskog recorded a hat trick. On Tuesday, neither player earned a point. Instead, both players finished with a minus-three rating on the night.

“I think there's a pride factor,” Trotz said of his team’s ability to bounce back. “I think there's a little bit of a cultural factor, DNA factor with this group because we've won a lot of games. We understand that best thing you can do after losing a game is start another streak and don't let the streak go the wrong way.”

Over the course of the last 12 games since the Caps’ first game against Colorado, Washington has been a team decidedly going the right way and, as of Wednesday morning, sit tied for first in the Metropolitan Division.

Who would have thought that’s where they would be after that disastrous two-game road swing in mid-November?