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.”
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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