What started as a good game in a big milestone for Tom Wilson turned bad to the point of an ejection. The Washington Capitals game against the New Jersey Devils Friday night at Capital One Arena was Wilson’s 400th NHL and Capitals game of his career. Wilson became the 40th player in franchise history to reach the milestone. The 24-year old right winger (24 years, 246 days) became the fourth-youngest Caps player to reach the 400-game mark.
Wilson has been a force to be reckoned with on the scoresheet since his return from his reduced 20-game suspension and he scored for the fifth straight game eight seconds into the second period.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) December 1, 2018
But then a good night turned bad. At 17:39, Wilson received a match penalty and was ejected from the game. The play occurred when Wilson ran into Devils forward Brett Seney as he was backing up while passing the puck. You can view the play below.
Tom Wilson has been ejected for a hit to Brett Seney. Right call? Judge for yourself.
— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) December 1, 2018
“I’m having a really tough time with this one, because he isn’t even intending to make a hit. It’s incidental contact and he is following his defenseman down the wall. The player backs into him, he tries to get out of the way of the player, makes himself as small as possible and there is incidental contact. He’s not even attempting to make a hit and we get a five-minute penalty that could’ve cost us the game. Like this guy’s doing everything he can to play the right way and this is how things are happening,” stated Capitals head coach Todd Reirden after the game.
The Devils had a five-minute power play that started to end the second and finished to begin the third. The Capitals were able to kill off the penalty but it having a lengthy penalty kill can always go either way.
“It’s a tough situation. We just had two players (T.J. Oshie, who’s still out and Evgeny Kuznetsov, who just returned to action Friday night) that had concussions, they didn’t even call a penalty on (the offenders). Here we have to have a five-minute kill there on a play where he’s not even trying to make a hit,” Reirden added.
“If you watch the play, Andy Greene is going down the wall, he’s coming back in following his defenseman. This player backs into him, makes himself as small as possible, picks up his leg and tries to go by him and a five-minute penalty that could’ve cost us the game in a big Metropolitan Division game. It’s a tough situation for our team. I couldn’t be prouder of how our team reacted and killed that off. We discussed it as a group. We have a strong, resilient group in that locker room that deals with adversity in the right way and whether the call is right or wrong, our team cannot change what happened right there and we made a stance in between the second and third that we were gonna get the kill and we’re gonna win the game. But it was put in jeopardy by what I felt was not a correct call.”
The players shared similar viewpoints. Two of them both agree that the play wasn’t a head shot. Usually one doesn’t get ejected for such a hit but there always seems to be some kind of exception for Tom Wilson.
“I just saw the screen from the ice and I don’t think he’s making any effort really to hit him, just bump into him a little bit,” said Andre Burakovsky. “I don’t know if he did it on purpose or if he doesn’t have him parked but we’ll have to look closer to it, I don’t really know but for sure he didn’t make an effort to hit him hard or whatever. We’ll take a look at it and we’ll see.”
“I don’t think he hit him in the head and that’s the biggest point from me. Of course, when Tom hit the guy, guys (officials) look at (the play) sometimes the way they look, I really feel like they should change a little bit. He’s a big guy and it’s maybe like two minutes, not the five-minute game misconduct but you know, I’m just a player. I gotta do my job and I will never judge the referee’s decision,” added Evgeny Kuznetsov.
There is no telling what the NHL or the NHL Department of Player Safety will do in response to this play. They could review it and give Wilson a harsh punishment. Or they could not. Wilson has four offenses in just the last year alone. It started with beginning last season with a four-game suspension for a hit in the preseason finale on Brett Seney of the Blues. It happened again in the playoffs when Wilson hit Zach Aston-Reese in Game 3 of the second round of the playoffs against the Penguins. That hit cost Wilson three games. Then it happened again in the preseason finale this season against the Blues, this time on Oskar Sundqvist. That was the harshest one of all, causing Wilson to be suspended 20 games to begin the season.
Wilson only missed the first 16 games of the season after a neutral arbitrator shortened the suspension. Since then, Wilson made himself a serious case as an MVP candidate. Wilson scored a goal in five straight games and has recorded a point in seven straight games. Wilson has seven goals and six assists in nine games. The Capitals are 8-1-0 since his return.
“He’s huge for our team. He’s playing well. He’s scored the goals and made those dirty plays and when you battle for the puck and go to the corner, it’s not easy to play there and he’s played unbelievable for us. That’s why he’s a big piece for us,” said Kuznetsov.