Capitals

Quick Links

Can Tom Wilson change the way he plays?

Can Tom Wilson change the way he plays?

On Thursday in New York, Tom Wilson will present his case to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and argue why he does not deserve the 20-game suspension handed down to him by the Department of Player Safety. Regardless of whether or not Bettman decides to reduce the suspension, there’s a larger question that now hangs over Wilson and one that will determine the direction his career goes from here.

Can Wilson change his game?

There is no question whether the hit he delivered to St. Louis Blue forward Oskar Sundqvist which earned him the suspension was illegal. The DoPS’s explanation video lays out why it was a bad hit. This is also Wilson’s fourth suspension in just 105 games meaning the next suspension will be even more severe.

When you have to think about suspensions of more than 20 games, those are serious. They have serious consequences for both the team and the player.

Like it or not, Wilson will have to change the way he plays. But can he?

Can a player who has played a certain way his entire career, a player who made it to the NHL playing the way he does, simply change his game?

“Every player can add different elements to their game,” Reirden said Tuesday when asked about Wilson. “I think it's a line that needs to be towed with him in regard to he has a physical element that is a difference maker for him and using him at the proper times and in the proper ways.”

The team is not going to ask him to not be physical and, despite what Caps fans may think, neither will the league. The point is he needs to be smarter about when he is physical and make sure to keep his hits legal. That means playing smarter.

The hit to Sundqvist was unnecessary. Wilson could have played the stick instead of going for the hit. The fact that it also came in the preseason is significant as well. At that point, he should not even be thinking about delivering a big hit to anyone because it is a meaningless game.

Against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs last season, Wilson is headed to the bench for a line change, but turns to deliver a hit to Zach Aston-Reese. That hit ended up breaking Aston-Reese’s jaw and resulted in a three-game suspension for Wilson. He could have simply gone to the bench and the entire situation could have been avoided.

Wilson absolutely can be a successful player if he plays smarter. He is not on the top line because of his hitting, he is there because he is a good skater with offensive skill who can win board battles with his physical play. The hits are just one aspect of his game, but he is a much more dynamic player than his detractors give him credit for.

But there’s no denying part of what makes him successful is being a good hitter. Reirden knows that and doesn’t want that aspect to be taken out of Wilson’s game completely.

“To expect him to go out there and not finish anymore checks is not going to be very effective either,” Reirden said. “We're working towards a good product for him so he can continue to be back in our team. He's such an important piece to what we do here. We want to have him back as quick as we can and then we want to keep him in the lineup so we'll be discussing that further after things are done.”


MORE TOM WILSON NEWS:

Quick Links

5 fun facts you may not have known about new Capital Ilya Kovalchuk

5 fun facts you may not have known about new Capital Ilya Kovalchuk

On Sunday, the Capitals traded for Ilya Kovalchuk making him the newest player on the team and perhaps the last piece to what Brian MacLellan is hoping will be a championship roster.

Kovalchuk should be a familiar name for most hockey fans considering he was a superstar player in his prime, but here are five fun facts you may not know about the Capitals’ newest forward.

Reirden and Kovalchuk were teammates in Atlanta

Before he was an NHL coach, Reirden had a journeyman’s NHL career with stops in Edmonton, St. Louis, Atlanta and Phoenix. His one season in Atlanta came in 2001-02, which was Kovalchuk’s rookie season.

"He was very underrated I think,” Kovalchuk said of Reirden. “He had big shots, scored some goals, but I think he was more a stay-home defenseman, but great off the ice. We spent a lot of time together on the road and he teach me some English, I teach him some Russian. I think he knows more than I expect, Russian words.”

It may have only been one season, but Kovalchuk and Reirden hit it off. Reirden credits the very little Russian he knows to the time he spent with Kovalchuk that year. He even had him and fellow teammate, Dany Heatley, over for Thanksgiving that year.

“[Kovalchuk] was the one that we first started on the word exchange,” Reirden said. “Obviously now his English is perfect and my Russian still is not perfect. That was when I was realized, I was a sixth, seventh defenseman on the Atlanta Thrashers and our team wasn't very good. We got to Thanksgiving time and I didn't feel like enough time was being spent with those players to help them get ready to play in the NHL. So I remember Thanksgiving having both of them over to my house and my wife cooking a Thanksgiving meal for them. So that was the first time we really started to connect.”

Kovalchuk is on the cap for four different teams

As part of the trade that brought him to Washington, Montreal agreed to retain half of Kovalchuk’s salary. That means he is counting $350,000 against the cap for both teams. In addition, Kovalchuk is still on the books in Los Angeles for $6.25 million for both this year and next after his contract was terminated. And, though it feels like a long time ago at this point, Kovalchuk continues to count against the cap for the New Jersey Devils. That massive 15-year contract that Kovalchuk signed in 2010 will continue to cost the Devils $250,000 in cap recapture penalty through the 2024-25 season.

Kovalchuk is an Olympic gold medalist

Alex Ovechkin has a Cup, but Kovalchuk has something that Ovechkin does not and that is an Olympic gold medal. Since the NHL chose not to participate in the 2018 Olympics, Ovechkin was not able to suit up for the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) team. Kovalchuk at that time was playing in the KHL so he was free to represent his country, or at least he was free to play for a team of a bunch of people from the same country but who definitely weren't representing that country...or something like that. The OAR team went on to win gold, the first for Russia since the country participated as the Unified Team in 1992 with all the countries that made up the Soviet Union.

Kovalchuk has two different-colored eyes

Move over, Max Scherzer. You’re not the only athlete with different color eyes.

Heterochromia iridium is the condition in which one eye is a different color from the other. Scherzer has it and so does Kovalchuk.

Many of you out there are trying to Google a picture of Kovalchuk right now or are wondering how you never noticed this before. The reasons is because Kovalchuk’s heterochromia is much more subtle than Scherzer’s. Instead of having two completely different eye colors like Scherzer has with one brown and one blue, Kovalchuk’s eyes are light brown and dark brown. Most people wouldn’t notice unless you stood close to him or got a very up-close picture.

The Caps are one of two teams with two of the top-five active goal scorers on the roster

Ovechkin obviously has the most goals among all active players with 701. In Kovalchuk, the Caps added the No. 4 active scorer with 442 career NHL goals. Only one other team in the league can boast having two of the top five and, of course, that team is the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sidney Crosby is third among active players with 459 goals and he is now teammates with Patrick Marleau, who was acquired in a deadline trade. With 561 goals, Marleau is second only to Ovechkin.

That’s a lot of goals between those four players. Ovechkin and Kovalchuk have a total of 1,143 goals with Crosby and Marleau combining for 1,020.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Not enough grit and not enough power from Capitals in Winnipeg

Not enough grit and not enough power from Capitals in Winnipeg

The Capitals were shutout for the first time since Dec. 16 as they failed to build off their two-game win streak. Connor Hellebuyck was tough to beat, but did the Caps do enough to get to him?

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the loss

This team has to play physically to win

If you want to know the importance of physical play, compare this game to the last few the Caps have played. The Caps did not dictate the physical play in this game nearly as much as they had in their last two wins and it was very noticeable. You have to take the "hit totals" with a grain of salt because it varies from building to building, but in this game the Caps out-hit Winnipeg 17-16. On Tuesday, Washington led in hits 25-17. In Tuesday's win, the Caps used the physical play to dictate the game as they jumped out to a 3-0 lead. They just did not do that at all on Thursday.

Make life difficult for the goalie

Give all the credit in the world to Hellebuyck, he was great. He was on his game and seeing the puck really well. When that happens, the Caps have got to make life more difficult for him. It felt like there was not enough traffic in front of Hellebuyck and not enough battling to win rebounds. It was going to take an ugly goal to beat him and it looked like the Caps could not deliver that. You can't always win with skill, sometimes you have to get dirty.

Turning point

Down 1-0 late in the second period, Washington got its first power play of the game when Neal Pionk was called for hooking Alex Ovechkin. Just three seconds after Pionk's penalty expired, Anthony Bitetto was caught hooking Ilya Kovalchuk giving the Caps almost four continuous minutes of power play time. Washington could not take advantage and suddenly when the team headed into the locker room it was clear Hellebuyck was going to be tough to beat.

Play of the game

Hellebuyck was great, but the save of the night came from Ilya Samsonov when he denied Jack Roslovic with the toe.

Stat of the game

Hellebuyck's performance overshadowed what Samsonov was able to do, but he had a solid night overall as well.

Quote of the game

Considering all the talent on this roster, it is always staggering when the Caps get shut out. It happens to everyone, the league is really good and really tough, but it is still surprising. The players feel the same way.


Fan predictions

You got the one from Dmitry Kulikov, but that was it.

The dream was over 23 seconds into the game as Patrik Laine took a puck off the heel and was forced to leave the game.

He got really close from the Ovechkin spot on the power play.

They have to score to do that.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: