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Wilson faces big offseason: 'Tom needs to elevate his game'

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Wilson faces big offseason: 'Tom needs to elevate his game'

When the Capitals made Tom Wilson the 16th player taken overall in the 2012 NHL draft, they had visions of Milan Lucic dancing in their heads.

Three years and two NHL seasons later, the 21-year-old right wing is still trying to play his way off of the Capitals’ fourth line.

“There was a little bit of growth with Tom and then there was a little bit of plateau with him, too,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who will sit down with Wilson for his exit interview on Monday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

“My goal will be pretty simple with Tom. Tom needs to elevate his game. We’ll talk about all those areas of where he can and how he’s going to do it and where we see him needing to get to.

“The good, the bad and the ugly, we’ll talk about all that.”

With Wilson, the good has always been his physicality, aggression and willingness to fight for his teammates.

The bad has been his skating ability, his shot and his reputation [unfairly at times] for occasionally breaking the rules of aggression.

The ugly, well, that’s for Trotz to determine.

Wilson’s average ice time increased from 7:56 as a rookie under Adam Oates last season to 10:56 under Trotz this season. He also improved his offensive totals from three goals and seven assists in 82 games last season to four goals and 13 assists in 67 games this season, improving from 0.12 points per game to 0.25.

But it was his ice time in the playoffs – just 7:44 per game – that underscored Trotz’s lack of trust in Wilson.

“With young guys, it’s easy to get comfortable,” Trotz said. “It’s a great life for a 21-year-old to be in the National Hockey League. He’s very mature for a young man, but at the same time there are expectations where you need to go. It’s no different than Michael Latta or [Andre] Burakovsky or [Evgeny] Kuznetsov. They’re going to need to get to the next level.

“Everybody has made steps. Some guys have made greater steps than others. Willy is one of my favorites I think he’s got a great upside, but at the same time I don’t see him as a fourth-line winger for the Washington Capitals.

“To me he’s better than that. He played in different areas during the year for a reason, so he had more touches. We’re going to have a summer plan for him so that he’s ready next year.

“Hopefully, he doesn’t break his ankle and be behind the 8-ball. I’m not going to massage him. If anything, I’m going to go head-on and say, ‘This is where you need to be.’”

Wilson ended last summer in a cast and spent the first month of the season rehabbing his way back into shape. He said he spent November and December trying to work himself into game shape while learning the responsibilities of playing on a top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

“It’s a lot different,” Wilson said. “It’s more minutes, but it’s also playing against other team’s top players. You go into Chicago and playing against Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane is a lot different than playing against fourth-line guys, a lot more responsibility.

“Obviously, it wasn’t ideal. I didn’t stay there the whole year, but I tried to do whatever I could to help the team and whatever the coaches thought was my role and what I could do best.

“I finished the year with fourth-line minutes, but those lines are important too. We tried to do our best to chip in and get some momentum for the team. At the end of the day you want as many minutes as you can get, but you work with what you have and work hard in practice.”

Even before sitting down with Trotz and his staff, Wilson said he knows there are areas of his game that need to be improved. He said he’ll work on his shot and his hands and his skating. And for the first time in two years he plans on having an entire summer in the gym.

“I think the offseason is huge for me,” Wilson said. “Obviously, last year was a little tough. I kind of got rushed back into the year and didn’t really have the offseason I’d like. It’s going to be really important for me to work hard and make sure my body is ready and work on my game.

“You have lots of time in the summer to work on parts of your game, skill stuff, off-ice in the gym. I’m going to do that and come into training camp with an open mind, and if I get a chance to play those minutes I’m going to be ready for them and try to do the best I can with them.”

Like the rest of his teammates, Wilson said he fully expected the Capitals to be facing the Tampa Bay Lightning this weekend instead of watching them face the New York Rangers. He’s hoping lessons can be learned from the Caps’ seven-game defeat.

“It hasn’t really set in,” he said. “We left it all out there in that Game 7. That was such a tough game. They’re a really good hockey team and a tough team to close out. We were a minute, forty away from closing it out and you’ve got to have that killer instinct and do whatever it takes to have that knockout punch. We know how close we were, so there’s a little bit of regret. It definitely hurts because we thought we had the team to do it.

“Next season is going to be another big year for us. The group might look a little bit different but we’re going to do what we can with that group. We have a good young core with Kuzy and Burkie and it’s going to be exciting to have a new core come up and gain experience.”

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Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

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USA TODAY Sports

Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

The mood in the Capitals locker room following a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was one of frustration. Forty minutes of strong play from Washington amounted to nothing because of a disastrous opening first period in which the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

No one in the locker room was more frustrated than Braden Holtby.

"Obviously you don't want to go down three," he told reporters after the game. "That's on no one else but me. The third goal, especially the third, fourth goal, that's the difference in the game. I thought we played a really strong game against a really good team. We should have got a better result and that's on me why we didn't."

Tampa scored three goals in the first off of only eight shots. For the game, the Lightning managed to pierce Holtby four times off of only 19 shots.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS LOST TO THE LIGHTNING

Frustration seemed to boil over on the fourth goal when a normally stoic Holtby was visibly upset after allowing Nikita Kucherov to beat him on a breakaway in a play similar to what we saw in the All-Star Game.

See for yourself:

"The key to getting better is learning from your mistakes and obviously I didn't do that," Holtby said. "I was just trying to play it patient. I wasn't trying to cheat towards that move and he came at it a different way. That's on me for not recognizing it. That's not a goal I can give up in that situation after our team battled the way they did, especially in the third."

The frustration Holtby feels likely is not the result of one goal, but the culmination of a recent slump that continues to plague the Vezina winner.

Holtby has lost four straight starts and has given up at least four goals in each of those games.

While Holtby was quick to take the blame for Tuesday's loss, head coach Barry Trotz was quick to defend his netminder.

"No one takes the loss," he said. "We all take a loss. I take a loss, the group takes a loss and Braden's part of the group. ... He's had a little tough stretch. It's no different than, we've got guys that haven't scored in 15, 20 games. It's no different than a player."

The challenge now is overcoming that slump.

For a slumping skater, Trotz could try different line combinations or play someone in different situations over the course of the game. Getting a starting goalie out of a slump, however, is more difficult. Most of the work has to be done in practice with the hope that it will carry over into the next game.

"You analyze how the goals are going in, what you're doing differently," Holtby said. "There's always some stuff that you can't control and stuff that you can and it's focusing on those contrallables that you can make a difference at. Like the first goal in Chicago, the last two goals here, those are goals that I could and should stop. You get to practice the next day and you focus on that and work hard until you figure it out so you don't do it again."

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Part of the problem in Washington is that team defense is the Caps' biggest weakness. For most of the season, and even in years past, Holtby has made up for much of the team's mistakes on the backend. Now that he is slumping those mistakes become much more glaring and costly.

"The goaltenders in this league are erasers," Trotz said.

Lately, Holtby has not been able to erase those mistakes.

But the team has already moved to address the defense. Brian MacLellan added a puck-moving defenseman in Michal Kempny to help the team get the puck out of the defensive zone more quickly. Waiving Taylor Chorney could also signify another move may be coming before Monday's trade deadline.

As for Trotz, even during the slump, he made clear his confidence in Holtby has not wavered.

"He has been a rock since the day I've been here the last four years and he's been an elite goaltender and I look at him that way."

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

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USA Today Sports

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Pavel Francouz stopped all five shooters and Petr Kouka scored the shootout winner as the Czech Republic eliminated the United States with a 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

Jan Kovar and Tomas Kundratek scored in regulation for the Czech Republic, which was fresher after winning its group and getting a bye into the quarterfinals. The U.S. looked fatigued after facing Slovakia in the qualification round and was outshot 29-20.

Ryan Donato and Jim Slater scored for the U.S, which again was led by its youngest players, including speedster Troy Terry. U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski allowed three goals on 29 shots and one in the shotoout, while Francouz stopped 18 in regulation and overtime.

Koukal was the only player to score in overtime. Chris Bourque, Ryan Donato, Marc Arcobello, Terry and Bobby Butler couldn't beat Francouz.

RELATED: OVECHKIN HAS LITTLE DESIRE TO WATCH 2018 WINTER OLYMPICS