Photo: NHL via Getty Images
When Capitals right wing Tom Wilson returned to the lineup for tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild, there was no doubt No. 43 was going to be a marked man by the men in stripes (the referees). That said, the extent to which that statement held true is nothing but an embarrassment to the National Hockey League and the game of hockey.
With the Caps up 1-0 in the last minute of the opening period, defenseman Dmitry Orlov (who scored the first goal) made a move around a Wild defenseman and dished the puck to a blazing Wilson, who glided through the goal-crease with Minnesota blueliner Ryan Suter right behind him. Wilson redirected the pass past Wild goaltender Devan Dubynk to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead, as SUTER collided with his netminder. However, both referees (Kyle Rehman and Tom Chmielewski) decided to hand the Capitals’ rugged winger a Goaltender Interference penalty after the goal was scored, ignoring that the replay of the whole play showed Dubynk’s own teammate knocking him over. This is the play in question:
Tom Wilson returns to lineup, scores goal and gets called for goaltender interference on same play pic.twitter.com/jYEu55F75r
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) November 14, 2018
Not only is this penalty unnecessary it is also a prime example of the blatant targeting of individual players the NHL and its officials have been guilty of for some time (especially when it comes to Wilson pre-suspension), and will undoubtedly not be addressed by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the league. While a 20-game suspension (reduced to 14 games) will certainly draw attention to any player, Wilson has been watched closely by the league’s officials for the past few seasons, and it at times has resulted in penalties that were not called because they were deserved, but because of the name on the back of the sweater.
One prime example of this was in a game against the Ottawa Senators during the 2015-16 season, when Wilson delivered a clean, shoulder-to-shoulder hit to then-Senators forward Curtis Lazar, which was met with an ejection from the game by the referees that night. Not only was it a blatant case of an undeserved penalty, but it was on a CLEAN hit. The league must hold their officials accountable for making calls that could potentially have an impact on the outcome of a game (or at least on the scoreboard), but when it comes at the expense of a player who has consistently marked by the zebras for the majority of his NHL career, even more so. As mentioned above, Wilson’s most recent suspension will forever earn him a reputation that will not be undone, but the fact that he can’t even play the game in a clean, hard-nosed way without being constantly hovered over, is something the league needs to address. When they don’t, it’s only detrimental to the league’s reputation and the sport of hockey in general.
By Michael Fleetwood