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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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Caps work on team building by fighting each other in FBI training

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@Capitals Twitter

Caps work on team building by fighting each other in FBI training

How much better would your work environment be if you had a chance to pin a coworker or get them in a chokehold? Probably a lot. That's what the Caps are banking on.

The team visited the FBI Academy on Wednesday in a team building exercise that included raming doors and, of course, hand to hand combat.

Let's break down some of these wrestling matchups.

Braden Holtby appears to be thanking John Carlson for playing 27:33 on Tuesday.

It seems dangerous to pit a goalie against a defenseman. Carlson spends all of his time on the ice trying to protect Holtby. Just how hard was Carlson really trying to take down Holtby?

It's no surprise seeing Tom Wilson enjoying himself with the hand to hand combat. Whoever went up against him (it looks like Jay Beagle) certainly drew the short straw.

And then there's this.

Nicklas Backstrom is having way, way too much fun. Maybe Andre Burakovsky was getting a bit chesty in the locker room after his first NHL fight. Well, it seems Backstrom certainly put him in his place.

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There are no moral victories, but Caps see a defensive effort they can build on in Tuesday's loss

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USA TODAY Sports

There are no moral victories, but Caps see a defensive effort they can build on in Tuesday's loss

The Capitals probably deserved a better result on Tuesday than a 2-0 loss at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Coming into that game, the Leafs were averaging 5.20 goals per game and had scored no fewer than three in any of their five games to start the season. Yet, a Capitals team fresh off an 8-2 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers managed to hold Toronto’s offense to only one goal, the second coming only after Braden Holtby had been pulled for the extra attacker.

“There's a lot of improvements from our game in Philadelphia, that's for sure,” Barry Trotz said following the game.

Aside from a flurry of chances from Toronto early in the first, the game was largely even between the two sides until Connor Brown put the Leafs up 1-0 in the third period.

RELATED: EVGENY KUZNETSOV COULD HAVE CHANGED TUESDAY'S GAME, HERE'S HOW

Despite their effort, however, do not take this game as proof that Washington has solved all of its blue line issues. Tuesday was just merely a step in the right direction.

“We did some things better [Tuesday],” Braden Holtby said. “The outcome could have been a little worse if luck wasn't on our side today on a few plays. We've got to keep a realistic mindset on that too.  But we did a lot of good things [Tuesday]. Our defense did a really good job at handling their speed and their size.”

Surprisingly, it was not the defense that cost Washington the game, but the offense. When the Caps needed a goal, they simply could not generate one against goalie Frederik Andersen.

Yes, the team needs to find more of a balance and get a full 60-minute effort on both ends of the ice, but there was also hope in the locker room on Tuesday that if they continue to improve in their own zone, it will ultimately lead to more offense in the other end.

“Everything is developed from the defensive zone,” Holtby said. “That's the way we've always had success scoring goals. If you're taking risks offensively, that's not a consistent way to play. You might win some games, but you're not going to win games consistently. That's what our foundation of our team is built around, our breakout, especially on our goal line and that what creates a lot of our offense.”

MORE CAPITALS: WHO STOOD OUT IN TUESDAY'S DEFENSIVE BATTLE?

What the first seven games of the season has shown is that the Capitals’ fate rests on its blue line. Yes, they need more depth scoring from their third and fourth line, but this team’s weakness is its defense. How they respond to their early struggles will determine the fate of the season.

“We'd be kidding ourselves if we're not going to have some growing pains along the way,” Holtby said of the team. “It's just how we handle them and what we do with them. How do we fight through them and get better?”

Tuesday’s game may have ended in a loss, but it was an effort the defense can build around. That is the silver lining. If they do build on this game, the Capitals still have a playoff caliber roster. If they do not, well, there is no telling how far Washington can sink.