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Following his second suspension, Tom Wilson acknowledges that he must adapt

Following his second suspension, Tom Wilson acknowledges that he must adapt

After Tom Wilson was suspended two preseason games late last month, the rugged Capitals winger vowed to not change his hard-hitting game.

After he was suspended four regular season games less than two weeks later, Wilson has changed his tune a bit.

“It’s pretty disappointing,” he said Wednesday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “But I respect their decision. Four games and a week-plus seems like a lot but it’s their ruling. That’s the standard that’s going to be [enforced] throughout the whole year.”

“I think they are trying to send me a message here,” he added, “and I’ve got to listen to it and adapt.”

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In his telephone hearing with the department of player safety on Tuesday afternoon, Wilson said that he told the new director of player safety George Parros that he attempted to mitigate the blow at the last second. He also said that Blues forward Sammy Blais, who was checked for a concussion but later returned to the game, should have been more aware of his surroundings.

“They were saying he was not eligible to be hit—his numbers are showing the whole way,” Wilson said. “I watched the replay hundreds of times. He looks right at me. He knows I’m coming and he puts himself in a vulnerable spot. At that last second, I’m trying to do everything I can to get out of the way. You can see me change my body position at the last tenth of a second to try and avoid the contact.”

But he didn’t avoid the contact. And with the hit-from-behind on Blais coming so soon after he was suspended two preseason games for a late hit, Parros apparently decided it was time to come down hard on Wilson.

“I think that was a big factor in it,” Wilson said. “If you look at it, I’ve played four seasons at this level, at this speed, and I've made tons of hard hits, big hits, clean hits. That’s a lot of decision making where I made really good decisions in a tenth of a second to make sure it’s a safe, clean body check. Since there was that discipline a week before, maybe he’s questioning my decision making. …If he’s questioning my decision making that doesn’t sit well. I’ve played four seasons, making a lot of good decisions at a very high [speed]. I can get around the ice quick. I get on top of guys very quick. That’s part of my game, I’m a good skater and I’m a strong guy that can finish hard checks. You know what? The game is moving away from those big, big hits. You got to be really careful. I accept that and I’ll adapt with the game, like anyone would.”

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So, yeah, Wilson doesn’t agree with the league’s decision. But he accepts it. And, most important, he recognizes the need to make changes to his mindset and approach.

“I have to be better at making the decision on when to hit and when not to, maybe pass up on hits,” he said. “My intent is never to hurt a guy. Anyone that knows me off the ice knows I’m an honest player and I care for the game, I care for players and I’m trying to play the game the honest, hard way that I know. I've got to adapt with the game and adapt with the message they're sending me. I’ve got to be a little more careful because obviously they’re being a little more severe with the games and discipline that they are handing out.”

Coach Barry Trotz said he’s discussed the suspensions with Wilson and anticipates that he’ll adjust.

“He studies his craft,” Trotz said. “He looks at almost all his hits. He’s not out there to try to hurt; he’s trying to play his style of game without going over the line. He’s played a certain way all his life, and the last four or five years he hasn’t really had any suspensions. And now he’s had two. Maybe the line’s moved, just like the faceoffs. The line has moved a little bit and he’ll adjust.”

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Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

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USA TODAY Sports

Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

Tarik: The term ‘Stanley Cup Hangover’ exists because, well, it’s a real thing. And the Caps, like all teams that battle into early June, are vulnerable to suffering from it next season.

Why? Think about it. No. 1, the core group just completed the longest season—106 games—of their lives (and, somewhere, the party is still going). No. 2, the top guys aren't exactly a bunch of spring chickens. No. 3, human nature.

A little more on that last one. Alex Ovechkin and Co. have spent the entirety of their professional hockey careers chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup. And now they have it. At long last. Hoisting the Cup was as much a moment to cherish as it was a gigantic relief for a team that had been labeled perennial underachievers. Shifting gears from that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment back to hunger and determination is difficult.

Something else that worries me a bit? They don’t have experience dealing with a truncated offseason. Rest and recovery matter. And they aren’t going to get much of either this summer.

All that said, they don’t have to stumble through the 2018-19 season. If you're looking at things from the optimist's point of view, the Cup run did something for Ovechkin and his teammates that none of the previous failures could: It showed them EXACTLY what it takes to play deep into the spring.

Eleven out of 12 forwards from the championship squad are expected back. Five of six defensemen and the goalie are returning, as well. Sure, they’ve got a new head coach, but he’s been here for four years already, giving him a huge advantage over a bench boss who’s starting from scratch. So there’s continuity and chemistry already built in.

I look at it like this: The core guys who’ve been around a while—Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Holtby, etc.—have a rare opportunity before them. After coming up short for so many years, they’ve been gifted an extraordinary chance to make up for lost time over the next 12-24 months. In fact, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Eller, Carlson, Niskanen, Orlov, Kempny and Holtby have two more years together, as a core, before the next round of tough decisions will need to be made.

But it’s going to be up to them. Are they going to be satisfied with one Cup? Or will they get greedy? I’m betting on the latter.

Regan: The Capitals could enter next season hungry, motivated, in the right mindset, completely prepared in every way to avoid a Cup hangover and it may still happen. Why? Because the Capitals (and Vegas for that matter) will enter next season with less time to rest, recover and prepare after a grueling playoff run than any other team in the NHL.

First things first, no, I do not think the Caps will struggle because they are are partying too hard this summer and won't be ready for the start of the season.

It took a long time Washington to finally reach the top of the mountain. It won't be lost on Alex Ovechkin, or any of the veterans, that the year he came into training camp early and in really good shape, that was the year he was able to lead his team to the promised land. Considering all the struggles, all the early playoff exits, all the years it took to finally win, I expect the veterans will look at how they prepared last season and take that lesson to heart going into camp. Those players will enter the fall in as good a shape as the time they have this offseason will allow them to be.

But this team is not just composed of veterans of the Ovechkin era who suffered through all of those postseason struggles.

What about the youngsters? Will Jakub Vrana have the same motivation as Ovechkin or a Nicklas Backstrom to show up to camp ready next season? What about Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey? If any of the team's young players aren't exactly in "game shape" by the fall, they won't be the first and they certainly won't be the last to struggle with early career playoff success.

There's also a new head coach to consider. In a lot of ways, I think coming into the season with a new coach in Todd Reirden will help. I don't expect too much adjustment under a coach the team knows very well, but I do expect more motivation at the start of the regular season than you usually see from a team coming off a championship.

There are a lot of reasons why the Caps could actually avoid a Cup hangover, but the fact is that time puts them at a disadvantage. Even if they overcome all the other factors, there's nothing they can do to suddenly give themselves more time to recover and to train. For that reason alone, I do expect a few early-season struggles from the defending champs.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo may have won the American Century Championships celebrity golf tournament this weekend, but T.J. Oshie definitely had the most fun.

Using the Modified Stableford scoring format for the tournament — which included several pro and retired athletes, such as Steph Curry, Aaron Rodgers, Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Charles Barkley and Joe Pavelski — Oshie finished with 11 points, tying for 48th with NFL Hall of Famer Tim Brown and Golf Channel host Lisa Cornwell. 

But the Capitals' winger's score didn't really matter because Oshie was out on the Lake Tahoe golf course in Nevada just having fun with his family and continuing the epic celebration as a new Stanley Cup champion. Obviously, that meant playing and chugging a beer through his t-shirt as 'We Are The Champions' played.

His brother, Taylor, was his caddy, and at one point, Oshie borrowed his brother's beer helmet while putting. He sunk it, and it was amazing.

Yeah, Oshie had a great weekend. Here's a look at some other moments from his weekend on Lake Tahoe.

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