When the Capitals took the ice Wednesday night for their season opener against the New York Rangers, all eyes were on Tom Wilson.
The veteran forward was at the center of a series of brawls between the two teams late last season; the incidents resulted in a season-ending injury for Artemi Panarin and a $5,000 fine for Wilson. New York then acquired enforcer Ryan Reaves over the offseason, seemingly setting the stage for a physical affair Wednesday.
NBC Sports Washington’s analyst Alan May talked on Caps Pregame Live about why he thought it wasn't in Wilson’s best interest to engage in a fight with Reaves.
“Ryan Reaves is a 12/13 forward,” May said. “He’s a one-dimensional tough guy. It’s hard to do, very hard to do, but he knows his role. He knows exactly what he has to do. But it’s not going to make the New York Rangers instantly better. Tom Wilson has made the Capitals drastically better. He’s a multiple 20-goal scorer. He’s grown his game so much.
“I look at the things he’s able to do: He plays on the Caps’ penalty kill, he plays on the Caps’ power play, he plays on their top two lines — usually on the top line. He’s the best physical player in the National Hockey League and I think it’s a waste of his time to fight other teams’ one-dimensional players. But he’s going to send messages tonight, he doesn’t back down.”
Wilson, 27, scored 13 goals with 20 assists in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. He started Wednesday’s game on the first line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Reaves, 34, was listed on the Rangers’ fourth line for the opener after scoring one goal with four assists last season.