Stanley Cup hangover or not, the Washington Capitals had struggled. After an exhilarating win on home ice over the Penguins, the Caps lost two straight games to the Blue Jackets and Coyotes. Their record stood at 7-6-3 but with a tough four-game road trip looming, they needed some kind of spark. Thanks to a neutral arbitrator, their first kind of adversity of the season was over. Tom Wilson, who began the season with a 20-game suspension that was upheld by commissioner Gary Bettman during his appeal, was reduced to 14 games. This meant the Caps got Wilson back on the first game of the trip and their top-line right winger made an immediate impact.
“I think sometimes when you have to watch some games for a while, you’re able to pick up some different things that you can add,” said Capitals head coach Todd Reirden. “I think the fact that a lot of the players asked him about how we’re going through a bunch of different linemates for (Alex) Ovechkin and (Evgeny) Kuznetsov at the time, so I think it got him to really focus on what he does that makes him special on that line.
Wilson scored with 28 seconds left in the first period and even crashed into the goaltender causing a goaltender interference penalty that made no sense. But despite the laugher and the #TomWilsonCould on social media, the goal marked Wilson’s return as he looks to be more of an offensive threat for the Capitals rather than the “predator” type player the league has tried to label him as.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) November 14, 2018
The Capitals won that game against the Wild and took three out of the four contests, the latter two coming in thrilling overtime fashion over the Avalanche and Canadiens. Wilson notched two assists in each of those victories.
Wednesday night marked the home return of Tom Wilson, the Capitals’ 20th game of the season that was initially going to be Wilson’s return to action in the first place. Instead, he entered that game with six points.
54 seconds into the first period, Wilson scored to put the Caps ahead 1-0. This time around there was no silly penalty that was called. In fact, Wilson wasn’t penalized the entire game. Wilson finished with two shots, a hit, two blocks and a +1 in 22:42 minutes of ice time, leading all forwards in the latter.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) November 22, 2018
Some expected Wilson to be rusty but he’s clearly picked up where he’s left off from June.
“Like I said, I think some time away and people asking him about it allowed him to really understand the importance of his role and how difficult it is at times. He’s played great since he’s been back and we’re fortunate to get him back earlier than expected and it’s been a big boost for us,” said Reirden.
The Capitals would go on to defeat the Blackhawks 4-2 in a game that also saw Andre Burakovsky and Devante Smith-Pelly, two of Wilson’s good friends on the team, light the lamp. Additionally, Michal Kempny got revenge against his former team that dealt him to the Caps back in February.
In Burakovsky’s media scrum, Wilson was playing around. When Jason Rogers of Japers’ Rink asked him about redefining his scoring touch, Wilson shouted, “He just needed his big brother back!”
“You gotta take credit for everything,” Burakovsky responded.
“Woah, sorry Mr. Serious,” said Wilson.
Whether it’s his impact on the ice or his personality off the ice, Wilson is back at the right time as the Caps get set to embark on a stretch of games this holiday season to get them further up the Metropolitan Division standings. Washington won their third win in a row on Wednesday night, their first three-game winning streak of the season and have been 4-1 since Willy’s return.