After the treatment he received during the first round of the playoffs last spring, Capitals right wing Tom Wilson is happy he no longer has to face the New York Islanders on Long Island.
“For me, the hatred and the passion we faced going into New York was something I never really experienced before,” said Wilson, who will be on the ice tonight when the Caps make their first visit against the Islanders at their new Barclays Center home.
“Their fans are pretty passionate about their team and it showed in a variety of ways. It will be a little different scenery now with a new rink and a new area. It’s probably a perfect time (for them) to get out of the Coliseum because that was a crazy battle.”
Not only did the Caps and Islanders slug it out for seven games; Wilson became public enemy No. 1 for his big check on Isles defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, a hit that knocked the 39-year-old defenseman out of the series and, unless he re-signs with another NHL team, may have ended his career.
Wilson received a charging penalty on the play and was vilified by the Islanders, with forward Kyle Okposo calling him “an idiot” and Thomas Hickey saying it made him “sick to my stomach.”
Wilson took the criticism in stride and spent much of the past summer working on improving his shot and puck handling skills. But just because he’s hoping to increase his ice time and offensive production, Wilson said he still plans on wreaking havoc on the ice – legally, of course.
“You can’t really ever take the teeth out of the tiger,” Wilson said. “My physical nature will always be there. But having said that, I have to have the poise and the discipline that is going to make me a good player in this league and not just one who’s going to play 8 minutes a night.”
Last season Wilson finished fourth on the Capitals and 24th among NHL forwards with 205 hits. He also led the Caps in penalty minutes  and fighting majors , while also leading the NHL in penalties drawn per game [1.9] for players who played in at least 40 games.
“I did draw a lot of penalties last year and by the end of the year there was a bit of a target on my chest from the league and from the officials,” Wilson said. “If I can play my game and move my feet and cause them to take penalties on me that’s huge for our team because we’ve got the best power play in the league.”
Wilson said that with a full summer of training he’s as strong as he’s ever been in his playing career and is looking forward to see what he can do on the power play if given the chance.
“It’s still preseason but I’m getting a couple power play touches that might get me ready in case I’m called upon to do that in the regular season. I’ve got to know the systems inside out. Now is the time to put it into action. You can say it all you want, but you’ve got to go out there and show it.”
Funky dimensions: A few players said they are interested to see what it’s like to play in Barclays Center, which was built for basketball and retro-fitted for hockey. The scoreboard, for example, sits over the blue line instead of at center ice, making it a visual challenge for goaltenders.
“I think it will be hard for goaltenders,” Caps coach Barry Trtoz said. “With the clock being over the blue line, and someone told me it’s not even centered, for goaltenders that might be difficult because you’re looking up ice and you have a feel for the clock being centered. It plays with your mind a little bit.”
Caps goalie Justin Peters, who is scheduled to replace starter Philipp Grubauer midway through tonight’s game, said he remembers the arena in Charlotte, N.C. also having a scoreboard over the blue line when he played for the Checkers of the AHL.
“I got used to it,” he said. “It wasn’t a big deal.”
Wilson said he’s looking forward to visiting Brooklyn, although the bus ride from Newark might be a bit taxing on players.
“I think it’s going to be a good change,” Wilson said. “I’m sure it’s a first-class arena. There are some great sports teams that play there and it’s a pretty big stage. It’s mostly a basketball venue so there may be some kinks to work out, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s the NHL.”