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Wilson escorts elephant out of locker room

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Wilson escorts elephant out of locker room

Tom Wilson admits that failing to score a goal in his first 21 games was beginning to get to him.

“To say you don’t pay attention to the numbers is a lie,” Wilson said Monday, two days after netting his first goal of the season in his home town of Toronto. “It’s always in the back of your head. That goose egg at the side of your name is not fun to have.”

Capitals coach Barry Trotz wasn’t aware until watching post-game highlights that it had been nearly nine months and 37 games since Wilson last found the back of the net, back on March 3.

“I just told him. ‘You left the elephant out of the room,’” Trotz said. “I didn’t realize it was 37 games. That’s a long time. I said, ‘You know what? It means you’re going to get a lot of goals now, just keep looking forward.’”

Trotz would probably like Caps fans to think the same thing.

When the Capitals used the 16th overall pick of the 2012 draft to select Wilson, the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder drew comparisons to Milan Lucic, who averaged 11 goals a season in his first three years with the Bruins before busting out with a 30-goal season in Year 4.

Twenty-two games into his third season with the Capitals, Wilson, 21, has eight goals, 25 assists and 362 penalty minutes. He’s spent most of that time playing on a fourth line, where he’s currently slotted behind right wings T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky on a line with Brooks Laich and Michael Latta.

Trotz was asked Monday if he thinks Wilson will someday develop into a goal scorer.

“A pure goal scorer? I’m not sure, but I think he can be a productive heavy forward,” Trotz said. “You wouldn’t say Joel Ward (who has nine goals in 23 games for the San Jose Sharks) is a goal scorer, but you wouldn’t say he’s not a goal scorer.

“I think (Wilson) can be that big heavy player than can contribute and hover around that 20-goal mark every year, which is hard to score 20 goals in this league. With time he can get to there. He’s not there right now but he’ still a very young player.”

RELATED: Braden Holtby named 'Second Star of the Week' by NHL

Despite his lack of offensive production, Wilson’s ice time this season (12:18) is an improvement over the 7:56 he averaged as a rookie and the 10:56 he averaged last season. That extra 1:22 of ice time has come mostly on the penalty kill, where Wilson has not been on the ice for a power play goal against this season.

Trotz said Wilson’s attention to detail is evident on the penalty kill, but it’s also evident in his decision-making on the forecheck.

“Willy used to go flying in, almost like a kamikaze,” Trotz said. “He could be the second guy coming into the zone and he’d be hitting the same guy the first (forechecker) was on top of. All he knew was put his head down and go as hard as he could and hit someone. That can fly for a while, but if you’re going to grow your game it doesn’t. You’ve got to have execution on the forecheck and his is much better.”

Wilson’s goal against the Maple Leafs Saturday night was a perfect example. As Matt Niskanen dumped the puck into the offensive zone to facilitate a line change, Wilson was the first into the zone, forcing defenseman Morgan Rielly into a ghastly giveaway. Wilson alertly went backhand to forehand to slip the puck between the pads of goalie James Riemer.

Wilson had dozens of family and friends in the Air Canada Centre crowd and many more watching on Hockey Night In Canada, where he was a post-game guest.

“It was definitely a fun night,” he said “It’s fun to score anywhere but I think it’s more special for my friends and family to score at home. They gave me so much growing up and they’re there for me every day when I’m not playing in front of the big lights and the big crowds.

“It’s nice to go back there and score in front of them. My parents were pretty emotional about it.”

The goal was actually Wilson’s second at the ACC. He also scored in a 6-2 loss in Toronto last season on Nov. 29.

“That one didn’t feel as good,” he said. “It’s a better feeling when you get a goal in a game when you need it. We were tried 1-1 at the time so it was a really good feeling.”

Wilson said the fact the Caps have been scoring and winning – they are third in the Eastern Conference with a 17-5-1 record – has eased the tension that comes along with not scoring.

“Right now he’s not in a role where that line is going to be big-time productive,” Trotz said. “But when they’re wearing teams down that allows the next group to come out. The biggest thing is they have to be dependable. They can’t get scored on. They had a little stretch where they got scored on and we’ve got to get that out of their game.”

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: U.S. Women back in the gold medal match

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: U.S. Women back in the gold medal match

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- The Americans played their way back into the only women's hockey game that matters: a showdown with Canada for the Olympic gold medal.

The Americans are back in the title game for a third straight Olympics after shutting out Finland 5-0 on Monday in the semifinals. They will face their arch-rival, which beat the "Olympic Athletes from Russia" 5-0 a few hours later, on Thursday. They Americans will be trying to win their first gold since 1998 when women's hockey made its debut in the Olympics.

And yes, the Americans understand the United States-Canada playing for gold is what everyone expects to see.

READ ALSO: SEE HOW THE DMV OLYMPIANS ARE FARING AFTER WEEK 1

"Definitely the rivalry has been there since I think I was born, so everyone's looking forward to that," said 22-year-old Dani Cameranesi.

This will be the third opportunity at gold for six Americans: captain Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Gigi Marvin, Kacey Bellamy and twin sisters Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson.

"It's honestly a dream come true," Knight said. "This is the world's biggest stage. This is the game that you want. This is the game we've been dreaming of and to have another opportunity to get back here, it's huge."

Olympic newcomer Cameranesi scored two goals and added an assist to lead the Americans over Finland. Marvin started the scoring, and Lamoureux-Davidson and Knight both scored during a 5-on-3 34 seconds apart in the second period. Maddie Rooney made 14 saves for the shutout.

Finland remains winless in eight games against the Americans at the Olympics. The Finns, ranked third in the world last year, will try to take home the bronze medal for the first time since 2010.

"We're got one thing on our mind, and that's to get a medal," said goaltender Noora Raty, who made 33 saves. "They're the best in the world (U.S. and Canada). We just need to get more girls involved so we have more to choose from."

The Americans opened these games a 2-1 loss to Canada wrapping up pool play.

"This was really a gold-medal preparation for us because they're a darn good team, and we had to be ready to play," U.S. coach Robb Stauber said of Finland.

The Americans wasted no time getting on the board. Captain Meghan Duggan found Marvin alone in the slot, and she beat Raty stick-side for the easy goal just 2:25 into the game.

Finland lost defenseman when she had to be helped off the ice and to the locker room after a knee-on-knee collision with Duggan. She was knocked off balance before crashing face-first into the boards, snapping her head back. When play resumed without a penalty, some fans booed. Savolainen returned in the second period.

RELATED: MEN'S HOCKEY GETS PIVOTAL WIN IN POOL PLAY

Stauber said the referee immediately came over and said it was a collision. Duggan said she was really happy Savolainen got up and that any decision about a potential suspension was out of her control.

"There's been some other plays that haven't been put into question, and so I can't imagine that there would be any disciplinary action just based on other things that have been let go," Duggan said.

Cameranesi put the United States up 2-0 with 1:22 left in the period, taking the puck away from Susanna Tapani and skating into the left circle before beating Raty's blocker with a wrist shot top shelf.

Lamoureux-Davidson's slap shot from the left circle came with 2 seconds left on the 5-on-3 at 13:21 of the second period, and Knight got her first goal of this tournament by redirecting a shot from Sidney Morin with 5 seconds left on the man advantage for the 4-0 lead. Cameranesi padded the lead as she scored from the slot over Raty's glove off a pass from Hannah Brandt.

"We're super excited to be in this position again," Lamoureux-Davidson said. "We worked four years to put ourselves in position to compete for a gold medal and we'll enjoy this for a little bit, but we know that this isn't what we came here for. We're ready to go to battle in a couple days."

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NHL Power Rankings: A rough week

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: A rough week

The Caps are coming off of one of, if not the worst week of their season. Washington has now lost three of four games and all three of those losses came in devastating fashion.

On Feb. 11, the Caps hosted a scuffling Detroit Red Wings team and saw the Wings build a 4-1 lead in the second period, a period in which the Caps were outshot 17-2. Washington battled back to tie the game, but ultimately lost in overtime. Tuesday in Winnipeg the Caps held a 3-1 lead in the third period, but allowed the Jets to mount a comeback and tie the game with just 15 seconds remaining in regulation before losing in overtime. Then, of course, there was Saturday's 7-1 blowout at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that had lost eight straight coming into that game.

SEE THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

To make matters worse, the Pittsburgh Penguins keep on winning and now hold a one-point lead over Washington. So yeah, things were not great.

The bad news is that, with the recent surges of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and even New Jersey, the Caps have to figure things out fast or they could continue to fall in the standings fairly quickly.

The good news is that they still remain in a relatively good position should they rebound. The Penguins do hold a one-point lead in the standings, but the Caps remain very much in the driver's seat of the division with three games in hand.

Four games separate Washington from the Feb. 26 trade deadline. The Caps will play in Buffalo, host Tampa Bay, play in Florida and host Buffalo. Winning three of those four games, especially if they can beat the dominant Lightning, will go a long way towards putting last week in the rearview mirror. Another tough week, however, could force the hand of general manager Brian MacLellan to make an unanticipated move at the trade deadline in order to keep a playoff season from falling apart.

After a week like that, it's no surprise to see Washington fall in this week's NHL Power Rankings. You can see the full rankings here.