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Tom Wilson rewards Caps’ patience with first NHL points
Capitals rookie Tom Wilson needed a minute.
The 19-year-old forward would have loved to discuss the first assist of his NHL career or answer a question or two about his first goal late in regulation of a 6-2 win over the New York Islanders on Tuesday night at Verizon Center.
The problem was a shaving cream pie to the face from teammate Alex Ovechkin was stinging Wilson’s eyes. He left the locker room for a bit to wash off. When he returned there were still gobs of it in his hair and on his flip flops and he spent the rest of his chat with reporters peering through squinted eyes.
“It burns!” joked teammate Braden Holtby, who laughed before convincing Wilson to hit the shower room to wash the shaving foam away.
The pain was worth it for Wilson, who had yet to see results through the first 14 games of his NHL career and already has earned an unsightly 42 penalty minutes, including a healthy share of minor penalties. That certainly needs to change even if Wilson’s production increases. He took another one in Tuesday’s victory over the Islanders, though he felt the call was questionable.
But the Caps stuck with him despite all of that. They could have returned Wilson to the Plymouth Whalers, his junior hockey team, after nine games. But despite zero production they stuck with him and almost certainly will for the duration of the season.
[Wilson] has had a lot of chances,” Washington coach Adam Oates said. “[The fourth line doesn’t] get that many minutes and because of the score [Tuesday] it gave him a chance to go out there. … He’s done a lot of good things for us and, obviously, very happy for him to get that first one.”
Wilson wasn’t benched after five more pointless outings. After all, as Oates noted, it’s hard to expect much anyway from a player seeing less than seven minutes per game. Washington’s front office and coaching staff have decided that limited minutes on a lower line in the NHL are better for the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Wilson than a return trip to juniors, where he had 75 points in 60 games, including the playoffs.
But in game No. 15, Wilson finally broke through. Oates, looking for a way to get his rookie on the board, put him out on the power play with his team up four goals and time winding down. After a faceoff win, Ovechkin took a pass from teammate Mikhail Grabovski, waited a beat for Wilson to cruise into the slot and fired a pass that was redirected into the net.
“I felt pretty good right from the get-go and it just all fell right into place,” Wilson said. When told he was headed onto the power play with Ovechkin and company, Wilson brightened and thought to himself “maybe this is my chance.”
The assist was a far flashier play. Wilson carried the puck up the left boards and sent a back-handed cross-ice pass to teammate Steve Oleksy. Instead of hitting neutral, Wilson drove hard up the left wing. Oleksy rewarded him with another cross-ice pass and Wilson bore down on Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov. He lost the puck and fell to the ice, but while sliding somehow whipped a pass out to the point.
Defenseman Alex Urbom was alone with time to shoot and ripped the puck past Nabakov. An excited Wilson raced over and jumped onto the pile of celebrating teammates. It was a beautiful play, easily his best offensive play of the season so far.
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