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Wilson drops the gloves with New York reporter

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Wilson drops the gloves with New York reporter

NEW YORK - Before a puck has been dropped, a check has been made or a punch has been thrown, Capitals 21-year-old right wing Tom Wilson already has been described in the New York Post as “a predator who preys on defenseless opponents” and “unnecessarily violent.”

In a column written by long-time Post hockey writer Larry Brooks, a reporter I’ve known for more than 20 years, Wilson is painted as nothing more than a 70s-style goon “who seems to play without regard or respect for the opposition and who rarely confronts a foe straight-up and head-on.”

I’m sorry, Larry, but you’re wrong on this one. Like you, I have seen hockey goons and Wilson is not one of them.

Does he play hard? Yes.

Does he drill opponents with hard, menacing body checks? Absolutely.

But his hit on 39-year-old, concussion-prone Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky in Game 4 of the Capitals-Islanders series was neither predatory nor dirty. And Wilson is willing to drop the proverbial gloves to defend himself.

“They can write whatever they want, it really has no affect on me at all,” Wilson said as the Caps prepare for tonight’s series opener in Madison Square Garden [6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN, 7:30 p.m. puck drop, NBCSN].

“I don’t know what his goal is to write an article like that. He’s coming at me pretty hard, I guess. But at the end of the day, it’s my game. I’m playing hard and I would never want to hurt anyone. That’s never my goal. My goal is just to win the hockey game, get in on the defense and make their lives difficult.”

Wilson stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 210 pounds. Visnovsky is 5-foot-10, 192 pounds. Wilson already was in full stride when Visnovsky went behind his net to retrieve a loose puck. Wilson did not accelerate or launch himself into Visnovsky. He hit him and he hit him hard.

“I mentioned to a couple of [Islanders] coaches in the handshake, I wish Visnovsky all the best,” Wilson said. “I know he’s an older guy. I have so much respect for him. He’s obviously been injury prone, but at the end of the day, he’s playing. He knows how fast the game is. He knows how hard the hits are. It’s the fastest game in the world and probably the hardest hitting game in the world, so those hits are gong to happen.

“Guys who have played the game who are on [TV] panels, they’re not freaking out about it. They’re not calling me a predator. They understand it was a pretty clean body check, just really hard. That’s the game that we love and that’s the game that we play. I never want to go out and injure guys but I’m going to play as hard as I can within the rules and get in on their D.”

Maybe the Post’s story on Wilson was written to draw the officials’ attention toward the second-year forward. Maybe it was meant to incite Rangers fans in what promises to be a series filled with big hits. Wilson, who was taken by the Caps with the 16th overall pick of the 2012 draft, said the negative attention is not going to change the way he plays.

“When you start playing half-effort hockey, that’s when guys will get hurt,” Wilson said. “You just have to play hard between the whistles. From what I’ve heard, people thought it was clean. Obviously, a lot of people in New York didn’t. That’s just passion. They can’t play the game, so they’re going to write whatever they can to try to get at me. They can’t step on the ice and ask me to fight, all those fans and all those writers.

“I defended myself. Anders Lee did a great job [fighting Wilson in Game 5], he came in and defended his teammate. That’s the way it should be. I’ll always defend myself after a hit if they felt I targeted their player. It’s just playing hard and it’s the reason we love hockey.”

As you might expect, Wilson was not the only player in the Capitals’ dressing room defending the hit on Visnovsky or the player who delivered it.

“You never want to have a dirty player on your team, but I don’t see Tom as dirty at all,” Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby said. “I think he plays the game very hard. I think he’s viewed as dirty a little bit because he’s so big and strong that he overpowers a lot of guys.

“The people who know Tom knows he plays hard and he tries to do the right thing on the ice at all times and be an impact player. He’s not a guy we’re worried about taking penalties. We know he’s going to do his job and we’re fortunate to have him.”

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Capitals don't get Penguins for home opener, but Penguins will host Capitals in theirs

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals don't get Penguins for home opener, but Penguins will host Capitals in theirs

The Capitals found out who their opponent will be for the home opener on Oct. 3 and it's not the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And you know what? That's OK. Winning the Stanley Cup was awesome and the banner raising will be an incredible scene regardless. 

Plus, the Penguins need that night off because they have to get ready for their own home opener on Oct. 4 against...the Caps?

Wait, what?

In 2016, the Capitals were in attendance as the Penguins raised their Stanley Cup banner. That had to sting considering Pittsburgh eliminated Washington in the playoffs.

It has not become a tradition to make rivals watch as teams raise banners and there's nothing that said the NHL had to schedule the Penguins for Washington's home opener. But it does seem odd that the NHL is going to make the defending Stanley Cup champions play a back-to-back right out of the gate with the second end coming against their archrivals in Pittsburgh.

Hey Caps, it's the NHL here. Congrats again. Vegas is a hell of a city, am I right? So, listen...we thought about it and decided you won't get to raise your banner against your rivals. Sorry about that. We tried and we couldn't get them for your first game. Good news though, we moved it all the way up to the second game, we just couldn't get it any sooner than that. You'll be playing them the second game of the season...the night after your home opener...in Pittsburgh...for their home opener. Anyway, good luck on the repeat.

Makes sense.

Look, if Washington can't have Pittsburgh for the home opener fine. It would have been nice, but it's really not a big deal. Raising the banner will be special regardless of who the opponent will be. But don't turn around and make the Caps play in the Penguins' home opener the very next day.

The schedule makers did the Caps no favors with this one.

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Date for Capitals home opener, banner raising announced and it's not against the Pittsburgh Penguins

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USA TODAY Sports

Date for Capitals home opener, banner raising announced and it's not against the Pittsburgh Penguins

Just before the Caps turn the page on their Stanley Cup championship season and open a new campaign, they will raise a championship banner to the rafters of Capital One Arena in the home opener. We now have a date for that banner raising.

The Capitals' home opener will be on Oct. 3, but if you were hoping Washington would raise the banner against the Pittsburgh Penguins, you're going to be disappointed.

Instead, the Boston Bruins will be the Caps' first opponent at Capital One Arena for the 2018-19 season.

The Capitals opened the 2016-17 season in Pittsburgh when the Penguins raised their Stanley Cup banner from 2016. That was rubbing salt in the wound as not only are the Penguins Washington's biggest rival, they also eliminated the Caps in the second round of the 2016 playoffs en route to winning the Stanley Cup.

The fact that the Caps had to endure that banner raising led to speculation that the NHL schedule makers would perhaps return the favor and bring the Penguins to Washington as the Caps prepare to raise their first championship banner.

Alas, that was not the case. It's totally understandable though. The Penguins need that night off so they can prepare for their home opener on Oct. 4...against the Capitals.

It is not typical that the NHL forces teams to play their rivals in a home opener during a banner raising ceremony and it should be noted that the Caps were not in Pittsburgh for the Penguins' 2017 home opener after Pittsburgh's second straight Stanley Cup. The 2016-17 season appears to be little more than a coincidence.

Still, having the Caps play in Pittsburgh the very next night seems like an odd quirk.

Seeing the Caps raise the Stanley Cup banner on Oct. 3 will be no less sweet without the Penguins in attendance. But it would have been nice.

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