PHILADELPHIA - The turning point of the Washington Capitals' 5-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday came with 4:43 remaining in the second period. With the game tied at 2-2, Capitals right wing Tom Wilson drove Flyers center Brayden Schenn face-first into the end boards behind the Flyers' goal with a vicious check, injuring Schenn and earning 20 total penalty minutes.
The 19-year-old Wilson received a five-minute major for charging, another five-minute major for fighting after Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann came to Schenn's defense and a game misconduct. WIth five interrupted minutes on the power play with which to work, Philadelphia scored twice in 1:12 to break the game open.
Wilson was not made available for comment after the game, but Coach Adam Oates staunchly defended the 19-year-old rookie.
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“I thought it was a clean hit. I really do," he said. "I watched it live, saw it on the Jumbotron, watched it again between periods. [Wilson] had changed. He went across the ice, he slowed down, he saw Schenn come out of the pile with the puck, took two quick strides. Schenn saw him at the last second and [Wilson] hit him in the arm. He’s a big strong guy, he hit him hard, yeah. To me, it’s a clean hit. I don’t even think it’s a penalty at all.”
Captain Alex Ovechkin echoed his coach's sentiment.
“To be honest with you, I don’t think it was a dirty play," Ovechkin said. "[Schenn] saw the hit coming, he turned, and Willy is a big boy. It’s always dangerous out there, it’s hockey. When you get hit, you have to be ready, especially at the boards. I don’t think he was ready, I think he was going to turn, but Willy just finished his check.”
The NHL Department of Player Safety, however, may not see it the same way. It seems likely that Wilson will hear from the league regarding his questionable hit and could face supplemental discipline in the form of a suspension.
UPDATE (1:50 p.m.): Wilson will have a phone hearing with the NHL at noon on Thursday. The maximum suspension that can be handed down is five games.
Replays show Wilson coming from a distance with considerable speed -- his shift began only five seconds before he checked Schenn, meaning he traveled nearly half the length of the ice in short order to administer the hit -- before making contact with Schenn's arm and back. (If you listen to the video embedded above, you can hear the official explain to Oates that he "saw [Wilson] come from the bench.")
The sheer speed and force of the hit delivered by Wilson, who has nearly 30 pounds on Schenn, sent Schenn crashing into the boards. Schenn, who struggled to stand upright in the immediate aftermath, suffered what the Flyers diagnosed as an upper-body injury on the play and did not return.
Here is the NHL's official definition of charging as it relates to this play:
42.1 Charging - A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner.
Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A “charge” may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.
42.3 Major Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a major penalty, based on the degree of violence of the check, to a player guilty of charging an opponent (see 42.5).
42.5 Game Misconduct Penalty - When a major penalty is imposed under this rule for a foul resulting in an injury to the face or head of an opponent, a game misconduct shall be imposed.
Many will point to the fact that Schenn turned away from the hit, which put him a vulnerable position, but at least according to the NHL rulebook, that is not a factor considered when assessing a charging penalty.
That is different from the league's explanation of boarding, which explicitly states that "in determining whether such contact could have been avoided, the circumstances of the check, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the check or whether the check was unavoidable can be considered."
The Department of Player Safety, however, has the right to make adjustments to the infraction upon review.
Either way, the biggest issue with the hit is Wilson's acceleration into it, not necessarily the contact point, and Wilson's fate will soon be sealed regardless.
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