Hockey season has arrived, and so has another story of Tom Wilson facing the possibility of a suspension.
The Blues kept many of their usual starters off the ice Sunday, while Washington treated the game as a final dress rehearsal for the projected opening night lineup. The Capitals turned around a slow game by scoring all five goals in the final 22:08 of game time.
Shortly after the Blues scored their first goal, Wilson checked St. Louis center Oskar Sundqvist high near center ice. Sundqvist lay sprawled on the ice for close to five minutes and needed coaches and teammates to attend to him and help him to the training room.
Coach Todd Reirden said it would “obviously” be a league review and declined to say whether Wilson needs to be “smarter.”
“He’s a player for us that brings that physical element. I don’t really want to comment any further on whether it was smart or not smart,” Reirden said. “It was something where he’s coming into defensive zone coverage, where he’s supposed to be, and it happens.”
“On first glance I mean I thought he went through his body and the guy kind of ducked last-second,” Devante Smith-Pelly said. “I haven’t seen a replay. It sucks the guy got hurt. At the same time, at a certain point, you can’t be cutting across the middle. I don’t care if it’s preseason or the middle of the season, that play’s not exactly the safest.”
“(Wilson) is gonna play hard. It’s just a matter of him playing a full 60 (minutes) and being with us because we need him,” Connolly said.
The NHL Department of Safety likely will hold a hearing on the incident before the regular season begins, given the nature of the hit and Wilson’s history. The rare enforcer who plays on his team’s first forward line, Wilson was second in the NHL last season with 187 penalty minutes. He earned a three-game suspension in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a check that left Zach Aston-Reese with a concussion and a broken jaw.
Wilson served two suspensions last preseason; coincidentally, both were for plays that came against the Blues, a common preseason opponent for Washington. He served two preseason games for serving up a late hit against Robert Thomas, and when he returned, he was called for a brutal boarding penalty against Sammy Blais and was suspended for the first four games of the regular season.
Sunday’s game turned from defensive to offensive not long after the Wilson play. The Blues carried a 1-0 lead late into the second, but Connolly got the Capitals on the board in the final minutes of the period right as a Washington power play ended. Eller dumped a pass out of the corner just wide of Connolly, and the winger controlled the puck and roofed it over goalie Jake Allen’s shoulder.
The Capitals‘ captain kept things going in the third. On his first shift of the period, Ovechkin wound up so much for a slap shot that he fell to one knee before the shot left his stick. He scored his fourth goal of the preseason on that play and his third in the last two games.
On the very next shift, Allen stopped a shot and Backstrom drew him way out of the crease as they fought for possession. The loose puck got to Oshie and he wristed it at a mostly open net.
St. Louis cut into the lead on a Jordan Schmaltz shorthanded goal that came on a breakaway. But Dowd made it a moot point just two minutes later by scoring his first goal in a Capitals sweater from the slot. Smith-Pelly added an empty-net goal in the last minute.
The Capitals wrapped up their seven exhibition games with a 2-3-2 record, but sorting out a few lingering roster questions had greater import for the defending Stanley Cup champions than winning games this preseason. One of those questions — the fourth-line center job — has an answer, as Dowd displayed fast chemistry with linemates Smith-Pelly and Chandler Stephenson on Sunday.
“Dowder’s a lot like Beags (Jay Beagle). He works hard, wins the draws and is always in the right spot,” Smith-Pelly said. “It makes me and Stevie’s jobs a lot easier when we know exactly where he’s gonna be on the ice. So far, so good.”
Now the focus fully shifts to the regular season. The Capitals will raise their Stanley Cup banner Wednesday, between a “Rock the Red Carpet” event for fans outside the arena and the regular season opener against the Boston Bruins.