Tom Wilson was signed to a six year, $5.17M annual salary by the Washington Capitals this past off-season for a reason.
As T.J. Oshie tweeted on Tuesday afternoon, it was “Free Willy 3, The Rescue” for the Caps once Tom and the team found out that the neutral and independent arbitrator, Shyam Das, reduced Wilson’s 20 game suspension to just 14 overall. Unfortunately for the Capitals, 16 games have already passed, but Das, who cited George Parros’ incorrect math as the biggest reason for the reduction, did allow Top Line Tommy to recoup over $375K in salary by slicing the length of the punishment.
The Osh Babe was spot on that this was “The Rescue,” because a lifeless and blah Capitals hockey team that lost to Arizona, 4-1, on Sunday at Capital One Arena was turned into a group of energizer bunnies in a 5-2 thumping of the Minnesota Wild on their home rink.
Caps sensational play by play man, Joe Beninati, stated after the game that you could feel the buzz around the Capitals in the morning once the great news on Wilson came to light. Anyone on Twitter on Tuesday morning also felt the vibe. Suddenly the fan base was energized with their young leader coming back into the fold.
Speaking of the lineup, Coach Todd Reirden immediately went back to the three forward units that the Caps used in the Stanley Cup Final to defeat Vegas and suddenly Washington looked more like that club that defeated the Golden Knights in five games. Andre Burakovsky (one goal, one assist), Brett Connolly (one assist, +2), and Lars Eller (two assists) were flying from the get go and that gave Wild Coach Bruce Boudreau matchup issues because the Capitals finally had a deadly top nine on the ice, once again.
Eller would make a great play to set up Dmitry Orlov for his first goal of the season 6:33 into this tilt. Orly has been pretty inconsistent for most of the campaign, but in this affair, he was outstanding. Dima was skating and carrying the puck with confidence. After scoring the opening marker, he made a super pass to Wilson late in period one for a net crashing goal by Willy. That tally came with 28 seconds left in the first frame and put the Caps up, 2-0. Somehow, though, the clowns in stripes called Wilson for goalie interference after the puck went in, but it was Ryan Suter who shoved #43 into Devan Dubnyk (28 saves) and the Wild defensemen compounded the damage by hitting his own keeper in the head with his skate, knocking the goalie’s helmet off. It was just flat out horrible officiating by Kyle Rehman and Tom Chmielewksi, who did not have a good night. In fact, I think Chim Chim from the old Speed Racer cartoon could’ve done a better job than either of those two zebras.
Fortunately for the Caps, the officials didn’t matter despite giving Minnesota six power plays, because Washington played such a strong game. With Pheonix Copley (26 saves) in net, the Capitals had a committed defensive outing and allowed their goalie to see the opponents shots. They also blocked 20 attempts and cleared away five or so (according to the great Craig Laughlin) rebounds. Rebound control is the one area that #1 needs to keep improving on, but he used his positioning and size to thwart several Wild quality chances in this contest. Pheonix’s steady net minding, especially in period two when Minnesota had a bit of a push, prevented the Capitals from coughing up a multiple goal lead.
Once it was 3-1 heading into period three, Washington used its speed and talent to score two rush goals and put this one out of reach, at 5-1. Orlov notched his second goal of the night off of a great feed from Alex Ovechkin on a three on two. That easy finish was all set up by Wilson driving to the net and taking the Wild defensemen with him. Jakub Vrana made a dazzling play using his speed through the neutral zone and into the offensive end to feed Nicklas Backstrom in the high slot, who then put one on a tee for the Osh Babe to deposit the biscuit into the practically empty cage with Dubnyk out high expecting a shot from Backy. That goal with 10:12 to go pushed the lead to four pucks and from there it was just a question of how many power plays the Wild would get down the stretch (the correct answer is three).
The story of the night, however, was the intensity from Washington. The last time they played with passion that translated into winning the majority of the puck battles and solid back checking was opening night against Boston. Since that game way back on October 3rd, there has been a lack of a spark from this club. That all changed with the return of Wilson – as I tweeted before the game, every guy in that Capitals locker room loves Tom because of the energy and effort he brings to the room. He’s a battler on and off of the ice and he’ll protect his teammates at any cost. You simply can’t quantify what he means to the team, but all you had to do was watch Tuesday’s victory and you certainly can understand it.
It was definitely fun watching the Capitals play hockey again, and you’d be hard pressed to not give Wilson the majority of the credit for the amazing and quick turnaround.
Notes: Shots on goal were 27-14 for Washington after two periods and 33-28 for the game…the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play while Minnesota was 1 for 6…Orlov led the Capitals in ice time with 24:20. John Carlson (+3) logged 23:35 and Matt Niskanen played 22:47…Eller had the most ice time of any Caps forward with 19:23…the Wild only blocked nine shots to the Capitals 20…Washington won the face off battle, 30-29. Eller was 11-8…the Caps are in Winnipeg on Wednesday night at 8 pm EST and Braden Holtby will be in the cage.