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Wilson: 'You can't take the teeth out of the tiger'


Wilson: 'You can't take the teeth out of the tiger'

Tom Wilson spends his offseasons in his hometown of Toronto, where everyone knows his name and the expectations that come along with being taken 16th overall in an NHL draft that produced NHL future stars players like Olli Maatta, Filip Forsberg and Alex Galchenyuk.

With seven goals and 323 penalty minutes in his first 149 NHL games, Wilson, 21, is keenly aware of the label he’s gotten as a one-dimensional, fourth-line player, and he wants to shake it.

“I think for me I’ve shown I can have the physical aspect of my game,” Wilson said after his third day of skating at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

“You can’t take the teeth out of the tiger. That’s always going to be my nature, to play hard and finish my checks. But I feel great. I had a great summer.

“In the past I’ve been a guy that contributed (offensively). I played top minutes on teams. I’m still young but I think the expectation for me is to just keep climbing up on the roster and play more minutes and accept more and more responsibility.

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“I’m a third-year guy now and there’s really no excuses. I should be playing (meaningful) minutes and contributing to the team every night, whether that’s offensively or defensively on a given night. I just need to be able to play my role and continue to help the team. That’s the expectation and I’m not going to accept anything less.”

Three years ago, in his final season with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL, Wilson scored 23 goals, added 35 assists, was a plus-36 and had 103 penalty minutes in just 48 games. Many compared him to a young Milan Lucic, capable of scoring 30 goals and racking up 100 penalty minutes as an NHL second-liner.

Wilson began his pro career as a fourth-line player under Adam Oates, playing in all 82 games in 2013-14 while averaging just 7:43 in ice time. Last summer, Wilson broke a bone in his ankle in a fall and sat out the first five games of the season.

And while his ice time increased to 10:56 under Barry Trotz, his production lagged, netting four goals and 13 assists in 67 games.

“I think everyone realized it was a little bit rushed,” Wilson said of his return to the lineup. “I mean, the season was starting and I wanted to get back. Maybe I didn’t have that little extra step that I should have, but it was a good year for the team.

“But from an individual standpoint I feel a lot better coming into this year and that’s what’s expected. Last year I had a half step back and I want to put that behind me and have a good year.

“I don’t want to say there were any excuses coming into last season, but having had that summer and having this summer I’m pretty aware of the difference it makes of putting in a good summer. I feel so much better coming in here. I’m in the best shape of my life and I’m really excited for the year to start.”

During his exit meeting with the Capitals’ coaching staff, Wilson was encouraged to work on his quickness, both with his feet and his hands.  He responded by getting on the ice earlier than normal, the middle of July, and worked with a skills coach in Toronto.

Wilson joined a group of NHLers that included Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds, Anaheim’s Chris Stewart, New Jersey’s Mike Cammalleri and  San Jose’s Raffi Torres (along with teammates Michael Latta and Justin Peters) and skated every Monday through Friday.

On Wednesdays Wilson worked with a skills coach, flipping pucks over sticks, weaving through obstacle courses and repeatedly catching pucks off the base of the boards.

“I wanted to put in the work so that when I came in here it was second nature,” Wilson said. “You don’t want to be coming in here starting to work on your skills. That’s what the summer’s for, putting in the work.

“Some guys it comes more natural to. But a big guy like me, who maybe it doesn’t come as easy to, there are so many great skill coaches to help with that.”

With newcomers T.J. Oshie (2 years, $4.175 million cap hit) and Justin Williams (2 years, $3.25 million cap hit) penciled in as the Caps’ top two right wings, Wilson is entering the final year of an entry-level contract that pays him $894,166. He likely will begin the season on the Caps’ third line, with the possibility of seeing time on the power play.  

RELATED: Oshie already filling the net for Capitals

He said the skill level of Oshie and Williams was obvious in their first few sessions on the ice and he’s looking forward to what they two veteran forwards will do for the Caps’ chances of winning an elusive Stanley Cup.

“I think we’ve just got to do our thing and not listen to what everyone else is saying,” Wilson said of preseason predictions. “Obviously, people are wowed with the moves we made in the offseason, bringing in two guys like that, with Holtby in the net and a solid D-corps.

“The sky’s probably the limit, but we’re just going to focus in us. Last year there was a lot of pressure with new coaches and this year we have high expectations on ourselves. We’re going to have to start better than we did last year and keep that standard up all year and into the playoffs.”

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Kuznetsov to be evaluated Saturday after leaving Islanders game with "upper body" issue

Kuznetsov to be evaluated Saturday after leaving Islanders game with "upper body" issue

The Capitals may have won the game Friday against the New York Islanders, but now they will wait to see if they also suffered a significant loss.

Kuznetsov left the game in the third period after taking a slash from Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey which sent him sliding head-first into the boards. The team labeled the issue as “upper body” when it was announced he would not return to the game.

Head coach Barry Trotz was tight-lipped afterward on Kuznetsov’s status.

“They're going to re-evaluate him tomorrow and we'll have some clarity hopefully tomorrow,” he said.


You can see the play here:

When Kuznetsov is first slashed he immediately reacts. His feet then catch the stick of goalie Jaroslav Halak which sends him tripping and sliding hard into the boards. He sat on the ice for several minutes afterward and was looked at by the trainer before getting to his feet and slowly making his way to the locker room.

When asked after the game what he felt about the slash, Trotz said only, “Hockey play.”

One of the Capitals’ biggest strengths as a team is their depth down the middle. Any injury to a center, considering it is arguably the most important skating position on the ice, would be significant. An injury to the team’s top-line center would be even more costly.

Kuznetsov leads the team with 28 assists and ranks second in both goals (21) and points (69).

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3 stars of the game: Caps win brutal rematch to sweep home-and-home with Islanders

3 stars of the game: Caps win brutal rematch to sweep home-and-home with Islanders

The Caps rocked the green in warmups, the red for the game and left a bit black and blue after a brutal 6-3 win over the New York Islanders.

Based on how things went in Brooklyn on Thursday, odds were that there would be some bad blood when the two teams met Washington on Friday. One night after giving up seven goals, the Islanders gave up another six in Washington and frustrations over a rough season boiled over all game long.

Ross Johnston was ejected for continuing to fight Tom Wilson even after the referees intervened, both teams combined for 56 PIMs and Evgeny Kuznetsov left the game in the second period after a slash from Thomas Hickey as he went headfirst into the boards.

The sting of the rough night was mitigated somewhat, however, by the 6-3 score as the Caps won their fourth straight.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Alex Chiasson: Playing in his first game since March 8, Chiasson made the most of his opportunity with a three-point night. Jakub Vrana did the legwork as he drove the net with the puck. Jaroslav Halak stuck out his stick catching Vrana which spun the netminder around and out of the crease. Chiasson came up behind for the easy layup.

He would repay the favor with an assist for Vrana's goal later in the third. Chiasson's first assist on the night came in the second period as his initial shot was saved, but he stayed in the face of Halak long enough to prevent him from making the save on Matt Niskanen's goal.

2. Nicklas Backstrom: When things were getting ugly, Backstrom made the Islanders pay with a power play goal on the two-man advantage.

After Johnston lost his marbles and Cal Clutterbuck was called for interference on Oshie, the Capitals needed to take advantage and put the Islanders away or watch New York build momentum. That was the critical juncture of the game. Backstrom also added an assist on the two-point night.

3. Braden Holtby: The recent struggles of Holtby have been well documented. After yielding the crease to Philipp Grubauer the last four games, Holtby got the start on Friday and played very well in the winning effort. The defense in front of him certainly helped allowing only 13 shots in the first two periods, but the Islanders were buzzing in the third period. New York battled back to make it 5-3 and Mathew Barzal had a breakaway opportunity with a chance to cut the deficit to one. Holtby made the save to deny Barzal and shut the door on the comeback attempt.

In all, Holtby turned aside 22 of the 25 shots he faced.