After key departures in the offseason, the Capitals needed more production from certain guys. One of them was Tom Wilson. After breaking out with a three-goal performance in the First Round against his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs last season, many thought that it was a sign of more to come.
Capitals’ coach Barry Trotz challenged Wilson during training camp, saying “We have to get more production out of Tom Wilson. We’re going to need more goals out of him,” saying he thought it was very attainable. Trotz also set a bar of at least 10 goals for him during the regular season.
When the Capitals drafted Wilson, 24, with the 16th overall pick, they thought he would develop into a top-six forward with some grit after he posted 23 goals and 58 points in 48 games during his last year with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL.
The season did not start out that way for Wilson, Trotz, and the Capitals, with Wilson getting two suspensions in the preseason, including one that caused him to miss the first four games of the regular season.
After being on the fourth line for the better part of his first four seasons with the Caps, Wilson hasn’t just been getting top-six time — he has been getting time on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom for the most part since Thanksgiving. He recorded 12 goals and 28 points since being put there.
Not only has Wilson been able to step up offensively after the loss of 68 of the Capitals’ goals from last season and with T.J. Oshie and Andre Burakovsky going through long scoring droughts, he has also established himself as the Capitals’ “fix-it” man. Whenever a line went through a slump or the offense wasn’t clicking for them, Trotz assigned Wilson to that line to spark it…and it worked.
Wilson finished the regular season with career-highs with 14 goals, 21 assists, 35 points, a +10 rating, 187 penalty minutes, 123 shots, and an 11.4 shooting percentage. His 187 penalty minutes were the second most in the league, trailing only San Jose Sharks’ forward Michael Haley (212).
Wilson has also played a big role for the Capitals on the penalty kill, averaging 1:44 per night on the PK during the regular season and 2:08 in the playoffs this season. His total ice time bumped up from 13:52 in the playoffs last year to 19:57 this year. His ice time went from 12:56 last year to 15:59 in the regular season.
Seven games into the playoffs, Wilson already has a career-high five points in the playoffs, including two assists in Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round last night. The Penguins won 3-2, but Wilson played a good game. He had four hits, one blocked shot, and a team-high three takeaways in addition to his two-assist performance. He has six blocked shots, 25 hits, and five takeaways to start the postseason.
On the first goal against Pittsburgh, Wilson took the puck away from Penguins’ defenseman Brian Doumolin after pressuring him on the wall. After that, he fed Ovechkin in the neutral zone where Ovi laid a beautiful saucer pass to Kuznetsov, who buried it past Penguins’ goaltender Matt Murray.
On the second goal, the puck looked like it was going to defenseman Kris Letang after Dmitry Orlov broke up a pass between Penguins’ players and got it out to Ovechkin for a two-on-one with Orlov. Ovechkin zipped one upstairs glove side on Murray to make it 2-0 Capitals. While Ovechkin had an amazing shot, the goal doesn’t happen if Tom Wilson doesn’t break up the pass.
Wilson was called out by Trotz at the beginning of the year as one of the key guys that has had to step up and he’s responding not only by shattering career highs on offense but also being called upon in big situations and playing more in key situation. He’s been the Tom Wilson that the Capitals need him to be after jumping up from the fourth line last year to the first this year. The Caps just need him to continue to keep playing the way Wilson is to have success against the Penguins and advance to the franchise’s first conference final in 20 years.
By Harrison Brown