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Capitals' Tom Wilson explains 'bluff' hit on Conor Sheary

Capitals' Tom Wilson explains 'bluff' hit on Conor Sheary

One day after being fined $2,403.67 for his knee-on-knee hit on Penguins forward Conor Sheary, Capitals right wing Tom Wilson explained to reporters what he was trying to do on the play and the reputation he’s trying to develop around the NHL.

“Honestly, on that play I wasn’t even going to hit him,” Wilson said of his decision to veer off his path to the Capitals’ bench for his unpenalized hit on Sheary. “That wasn’t my intention. I was just trying to kind of bluff check him, give him a fake and kind of go to the bench and our legs got caught up. 

“Hockey’s a fast game, and sometimes stuff happens that you don’t really intend on. I think it looked a lot worse than the outcome was. The impact really wasn’t that great. He was trying to get out of the way.”

Sheary finished Thursday’s Game 1 and was back on the ice for the Penguins on Saturday at Verizon after missing Friday’s practice at Kettler.

“Just kind of an unfortunate circumstance, but the league does their job,” Wilson said. “They watch pretty much all my hits, I’m sure. When you play the game hard, you’re going to get under a microscope, and you’ve just got to make sure you’re playing within the rules. Player safety’s a big part of the game these days. We want to make sure that everyone’s kind of safe out there and guys are playing within the rules. Whatever player safety needs to do to kind of keep the game in check and playing the right way, they’re going to do that.”

Wilson, 22, said he was not given any specific message from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

“I think I get the message,” Wilson said. “I know they’re watching. I play the game hard. When you play the game that way, you’re going to be under a microscope. You’re finishing checks hard, and up until this one I’ve been completely off the books. I’ve hit very hard but very legal. I’m not going to change the way I play. I’ve got to trust my instincts.

"That’s just a real unfortunate kind of circumstance. I don’t even intend to really hit him there. I’m trying to kind of bluff hit him and our legs get tangled up. I had no intention on going knee-on-one. You ask any player, if I’m going in there planning to go knee-on-knee, there’s a 50/50 chance it’s going to be my knee that blows up. That’s an unfortunate play. I’m sure he’s all right. I hope he’s all right. We’ll just go on with the series here.”

Capitals coach Barry Trotz said he believes Wilson has become a more disciplined player in his two seasons of coaching him. Wilson noted that he has never been suspended by the NHL, although that could be the NHL’s next step after issuing a fine.

“The game’s constantly evolving, you’ve kind of got to evolve with it,” Wilson said. “The Pittsburgh media was saying it was just a crazy Game 1, it was an octagon not a rink and I don’t think they really watched the Philly series because that was even crazier. 

“I kind of learned throughout that series that I’ve got to tone it down a little bit. Our team’s so good on the special teams that if we can give our team the advantage, that’s what I want to do. There’s going to be emotion, it’s playoffs and I’ve just got to make sure that I’m putting our team kind of up a man not down a man. 

“It’s playoffs, stuff happens. That was kind of an unfortunate one, but I’ve talked to Barry, I’ve talked to numerous refs, the league, I’ve talked to people. It’s no secret that I hit hard and that I play the game hard. I’ve just got to make sure that I’m staying within the rules and doing what I have been doing.”

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

With Tom Wilson still serving a 20-game suspension, Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has the difficult task of finding a wing to complement his top line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. For the first four games of the season, that player was Brett Connolly.

On Saturday, however, he changed things up and went with Chandler Stephenson instead.

Just 18 seconds into the game, Stephenson made his head coach look very smart as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Kuznetsov to score his first goal of the season.

“Obviously, the start was great,” Reirden said after the game.

Stephenson is an incredibly fast skater and the extra speed seemed to add another dimension to that line that opponents had to contend with, and it led to both of the Caps’ goals on the night.

In addition to Stephenson’s goal, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty in the second period, and Washington scored on the resulting power play.

“Those guys are a lot of fun to play with,” Stephenson said. “They just know where to be and can find each other. I've just got to get the puck to them and just go to the net with your stick on the ice, and they'll find you.”

The top line’s success was a matter of finding instant chemistry as Stephenson had very little time to adjust. The Caps were off on Friday following back-to-back games, and Reirden did not make the switch of putting Stephenson on the top until Saturday’s morning skate.

Putting a new top line together with little time to practice does not seem like an ideal scenario, but according to Kuznetsov, the level of familiarity between all the players made the adjustment quick and easy.

“It doesn't matter with who you play,” he said. “In this locker room, we can communicate with anybody. We don't have a first line, we don't have a fourth line. We try and roll all lines.”

Reirden seemed pleased with the new trio after the game saying, “They did a number of good things during the game as well, so they I thought accomplished a lot. I thought [Stephenson] brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go after their defense a little bit and force some turnovers that Kuznetsov and [Ovechkin] were able to at least get some opportunities from. So I think that's important to have him in that situation.”

Reirden was happy enough with the top line’s performance to keep them together. The team is off Monday, but Stephenson remained on the top line during Sunday’s practice.

But so long as Wilson remains out, finding the right match for the top line will remain a work in progress.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to try to put together our four lines that give us the best chance.”

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NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

There was a lot of excitement to start the season for the Caps. First, there was the home-opener and the banner raising against the Boston Bruins. Then there was a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Penguins. After that, it was a Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Vegas Golden Knights.

And all of that was followed up with a trip to Newark.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

With all due respect to New Jersey, given the slate the Caps faced to start the season, it was no real surprise to see the team struggle to get up for Thursday’s game against the Devils, a game in which the Caps were blown out 6-0. Of all the games Washington faced to start the season, the trip to New Jersey was definitely the least exciting.

But not every game is going to be a big rivalry matchup or a playoff rematch. With every team gunning for the Caps, they better make sure they can get themselves ready for the grind of an 82-game season that won’t always feature a big-time matchup.

A trip to Newark may not be flashy or exciting, but it still counts as two points.

The Caps dropped the game in New Jersey and lost a tight contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Where do they stand now after two straight losses?

FIND OUT HERE IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS

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