Capitals Not Eager To Dull Tom Wilson's Edge

In the latest issue of The Hockey News, the magazine rated Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson as the NHL's best cruiserweight among frequent fighters. 

Wilson developed that reputation during his rookie season, engaging in 14 fights in 82 games, a total that placed him amid the league leaders. With five fights through 13 games this season (and one in each of his past three games), the 20-year-old is there again. 

The substantial difference is that now that he plays on the first line, Wilson's proclivity for dropping the gloves has more of an effect on the lineup as compared to the minimal impact it had in the fourth-line role that he was confined to last season. 

Since returning from offseason ankle surgery in late October, Wilson has spent almost all of his even-strength ice time skating with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, exactly where coach Barry Trotz envisioned he would be before his delayed debut. There, Wilson's underutilized skill could properly grow. 

They have had success, recording about 56 percent of the total shot attempts (shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots) when on the ice. Yet they cannot improve upon that success if Wilson is serving five minutes in the penalty box.

"All the guys are standing up for each other and he's one of the toughest that we have," Backstrom said. "Sometimes that happens, I don't think he's looking for a fight, but if it happens, it happens. He's a really good hockey player without the fighting and we need him on the ice. ... That's a fine balance there." 

Wilson looks at each fight and the situations in which they arise individually. He admitted Monday that "Now's probably not a great time to ask me because I've fought in my last three consecutive games," but he nevertheless detailed how he viewed his recent skirmishes. 

"The first one [against New York Islanders forward Anders Lee on Wednesday], I drew a penalty, he jumped me, put their team on the [penalty kill], that's a huge goal for our team," Wilson said. "Anytime I can do that, or anyone can do that, it's a good thing especially with the power play that we have.

"Second one [against Islanders forward Matt Martin on Friday], we were up 2-0, they scored, got a little bit of the momentum, obviously it didn't work out but that's not a bad time to fight, trying to get the crowd back into it on our side a little bit. Didn't work out in our favor, they scored right after again.

"And then in the third one [against Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Korbinian Holzer on Saturday, which resulted in a linesman being struck by an errant punch], it was a 6-2 game, I felt like he cheapshotted me. I was on my knees and he kind of shoved me into the dasher and just frustration, but maybe not the third one as much, but the other two were at important times in the game."

It is a matter of knowing when to "pick my spots" as Wilson described it. He has the confidence of the coaching staff, which is not eager to dull his edge.

"Tom Wilson needs to play like Tom Wilson," Trotz said. "If Tom Wilson starts to play like someone else, then he won't be on the first line.

"I think Tom Wilson is one of those unique players, he's young, that can have a big effect on a game. He can play a skill game, he can play a very physical game, he can play a game where if people want to take advantage of our top two players, then there will be someone to answer to rather than someone who's maybe a non-fighter. I think Backy and Ovi can take care of themselves, but that's not what they do. Willy does that.

"I want him to be an elite power forward in this league. I think he has that capability. He's got a good work ethic, he's got a good sense of the game and being consistent and hard. That's a big line when he's out there. There's a couple of big men out there with skill. You can take over games like that. Really happy with where he is. If he wants to go, let him go. You don't want to take that spirit out of him."

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