Capitals coach Barry Trotz has a little message for New York Islanders enforcer Eric Boulton, who may or may not be in the lineup Sunday when the Isles visit Verizon Center for the Caps’ preseason finale:
Tom Wilson isn’t afraid of you. He was just following coach’s orders.
On Monday night, Boulton, a 39-year-old, 6-foot, 225-pound veteran of 648 NHL games and 142 NHL fights, desperately tried to get Wilson to drop the mitts.
Wilson, a 6-foot-4, 207-pound veteran of 149 NHL games and 26 NHL fights, repeatedly refused, prompting Boulton to say after the game, “He kept turning me down. He wasn’t interested. He was scared to death.”
Actually, Wilson was more afraid to disobey his coach.
“I told (Wilson) before the game there’s only one reason the Islander player is in the lineup and I don’t want him to fight him. I said I need for you to play. I also told him if (Boulton) is on the ice with you, you’ve got to be involved. You don’t want to get jumped. If he’s coming at you and you can’t get out of it you’ve got to go at it.
“But I told him to back off and play. He’s not scared of anybody or anything. I just need him to play.”
Wilson’s restraint after drawing a charging penalty on Boulton in the third period led to a power-play goal by Andre Burakovsky, on which he assisted, and it proved to be the game-winning goal. Trotz said he wants more of that from Wilson, who last season finished sixth in the NHL with 12 fights, two fewer than his rookie season.
“There’s probably a little target there,” Trotz said. “He’s a hard guy to play against and I’m not going to take that out of him. I just need him to play a little more. He might play 20 minutes and that’s two games (of ice time) for him last year.”
Trotz said Wilson will see time on the penalty kill, where his long reach should be disruptive in the same way Eric Fehr’s long reach was effective last season. Eventually, Trotz said he’d also like to integrate Wilson into the Caps’ power play rotation as a net-front presence or “diamond” shooter from the slot.
“We’re trying to grow his game, but trust me, I want him to be hard and nasty,” Trotz said. “I don’t think that’s going to change. But we’re going to help him become a better player, too.”