In the first period, Washington Capitals fourth-line winger Tom Wilson did what he usually does: attempt to bring energy to the team with some physical play.
Unfortunately, the six-foot, four-inch rookie delivered another questionable hit — this time to Buffalo Sabres defenseman Jamie McBain — and was given a two-minute minor for charging. The hit seemed like a less violent version of Wilson’s crushing check of Brayden Schenn from a month ago, which Brendan Shanahan later deemed a legal play.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Wilson takes seven strides before delivering a body check to McBain. However, just like with the Schenn fiasco and to his credit, Wilson readjusts and only makes two strides after McBain tries to catch the puck with his gloved hand. He’s just trying to jar the puck free.
Notice here as well, McBain’s head recoils as Wilson finishes the check.
CSN analyst Alan May did not agree with the ref’s call on the ice.
“It’s a big hit, but you gotta be careful when Big Tom’s on the ice,” May said after the play was blown dead. “He finishes his hits and I think the defenseman put himself in a tough spot. Debatable. That’s a tough one.”
“You can’t expect him to slow up all the time,” May continued. “You gotta be aware of who’s on the ice.”
While in the penalty box, Wilson saw a replay of the hit on the jumbotron. Looking puzzled, he yelled, “What?!” at the official.
On the ensuing power play, the Sabres scored. Tyler Ennis, after illegally taking Joel Ward down, fired home a rebound and scored the Sabres only goal of the game.
The Sabres won in the shootout 2-1.
Here’s the problem. Wilson is gigantic and strong like an ox. He is also an incredible skater for his size. While he plays an honest game, sometimes his hits can appear worse than they are because of those factors. Also, when you consider how tall he is, his follow through is usually near a player’s head — a sensitive topic in today’s NHL.
I don’t think that the hit Wilson delivered today was a charge, but I do think Tom has to mature here a little bit. Instead of going in for a board slam, slowing up and playing the puck with his stick would have been a better decision.
He needs to understand that even if he does everything right, his size and strength can push legal hits into a grey area. He needs to pick his spots better.
Just like against Philadelphia, his decision making today led to a loss — even if in hindsight, the hit was actually clean. As a fourth line player, he is supposed to bring energy, not put the team short-handed.