- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 17, 2015

Shortly after being sent off for receiving a match penalty on Wednesday night, Tom Wilson walked into the coaches’ offices in Verizon Center to take a look at the replays.

Wilson, the Washington Capitals‘ rugged third-line right wing, said the glance at the film showed him exactly what he remembered. He was trying to separate the Ottawa Senators’ Curtis Lazar from the puck late in the third period of Washington’s 2-1 victory when the two players collided, sending Lazar, who clearly wasn’t expecting a hit, tumbling to the ice.

Officials assessed Wilson the match penalty, which, according to the rules, triggers an automatic suspension from further competition until the league reviews the hit. An NHL spokesman said the review is scheduled to take place Friday morning; a Capitals spokesman said the team is expecting Wilson to play Friday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I mean, it’s a close hockey game,” Wilson said Thursday morning, before the league reviewed the play. “It’s a two-on-two. I’m tracking the puck. I’m the third man. I’m just trying to help my defensemen turn the puck over. You just have to trust that what got you here is going to be OK.”

With 4:44 remaining, Lazar and Senators defenseman Cody Ceci entered Washington’s zone, where they were met by Wilson and defensemen Dmitry Orlov and Taylor Chorney. Lazar was in the process of receiving a pass from Ceci when he was checked by Wilson, who he apparently did not see coming, and the impact of the hit caused Lazar’s head to whip to the left.

Lazar, who sustained a concussion earlier in the season and missed three games, made his way to the bench after the whistle blew but did not return. He told Ottawa-based reporters on Thursday that his head was fine, but his neck remained sore and his status for Friday’s game against the San Jose Sharks was uncertain.

“The one thing I didn’t like was the blind side of it,” Lazar said. “I didn’t see him coming and I didn’t have full control of the puck. It was kind of a 50/50 puck there. I would kind of hope if that situation came up again and I was in his shoes, I would play the puck, but then again, he’s a physical player and I understand that.”

Wilson, in his third full season, has already been the subject of closer scrutiny around the league because of the nature of his hits. After the game, he said that opponents are going to recoil when hit by someone his size — Wilson is listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds — and that if he truly tried to hit Lazar, “it would have been a lot bigger of a hit.”

He acknowledged on Thursday morning that he is aware of the league’s efforts to improve player safety, which, in recent years, have included banning hits to the head and neck and cracking down on hits the receiving player can’t see. He also said that he knows that the league doesn’t want to eradicate hitting and fighting altogether.

“You want to make the game safer, but you don’t want to get too off track that it takes all of the emotion out of the game,” Wilson said. “For me, it’s just kind of finding that fine line.”

Capitals coach Barry Trotz reiterated on Thursday that he didn’t think Wilson’s hit should have been penalized, but said he understands the push by the officials to take Lazar’s safety into account.

Wilson has embraced a larger role with the Capitals in his third full season, with Trotz putting him on the ice more frequently in late-game situations and adding him to the penalty kill unit before the season began.

The challenge, then, is to get Wilson to play a more disciplined, responsible style — all while making sure he doesn’t drift too far from the habits and characteristics that led to his debut in the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2013 at age 19.

Tom’s a very bright kid — man, I should say — and he just keeps growing his game,” Trotz said. “I don’t want him to change his game. That’s what he is. You are what you are. Just keep growing your game.”

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