They say that some people never change and maybe that’s the case with Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson, who reverted back to his questionable antics against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Capital One Arena on Thursday night.
On a night where the Capitals improved to 10-5-4 on the year in a stacked East Division, all of the headlines will revolve around Wilson who had a big night in more ways than one, once again highlighting why he is such a polarizing figure in the National Hockey League.
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Wilson scored what proved to be the game-winning goal at 12:40 in the third period, his seventh goal and 14th point of the season, while he also logged 18:09 of total ice time including playing big minutes on both the power play and on the penalty kill.
The gritty power forward also laid on four hits but it was a hit in the first period that really set Hockey Twitter alight and again reignited the debate about Wilson being a dirty player, and whether he should be made an example of.
After Pittsburgh Penguins forward Mark Jankowski had batted the puck out of the air in the neutral zone, Wilson came charging across and absolutely levelled Jankowski in what was a bone-crushing and incredibly late hit.
Tom Wilson the perfect NHL villain after dishing out another controversial hit
I mean, you can’t even argue that the hit itself was about as late it could get, and Jankowski was completely unaware and unready for what was coming his way. If you slow down the video and watch, Wilson has his eyes on Jankowski all the way and deliberately follows through. Could Jankowski have been more aware? Maybe, but it is a hard one to call.
Now, on the flip side, the hit itself was to the chest so you can’t call it a dirty hit or a cheap shot, and you can argue all day long about whether there is a place for those kind of hits in the game, with some feeling that the game is too soft now and others wanting to see those kind of plays cut out.
Wilson himself defended the hit after the game and called it a “great hockey play.”
The amazing thing is that Wilson only got a minor interference penalty for that brutal hit when he could have easily been assessed a game misconduct, and he rubbed salt into the Pittsburgh wounds by breaking the tie in the third period with a power play goal, getting to the front of the net and having his stick on the ice ready to redirect John Carlson‘s feed past Tristan Jarry with Carl Hagelin and Lars Eller both lighting the lamp after to wrap up the win for the Caps.
Now, we have to be fair and say that Tom Wilson has cleaned up his act a lot as of late and he’s morphed into an incredibly productive player for the Capitals, logging big minutes, playing in all situations, providing a real offensive punch and coming up clutch in huge moments as was the case last night.
However, and again, I think it is fair to call the hit itself clean given that it was to the chest and not to the head, but I think it was the lateness of the hit and the fact that, when slowed down, the video appears to show that Wilson knew exactly what he was doing in going after Jankowski even after he had got rid of the puck.
That’s the part of the hit that has upset some and, in this case, Wilson’s reputation speaks for itself given that he’s got a history filled with cheat shots and dirty hits, so everyone is going to assume that this was another intention to simply flat out hurt a player.
Only Tom Wilson himself knows whether or not that was the true intent, but we know he likes to play on the edge and we also know that he just can’t help but cross the line sometimes, and that was the case on Thursday night.
And, given that the hit itself was clean, it remains to be seen whether the NHL will suspend Tom Wilson for what was effectively a very late hit when you look at it in the cold light of day, but you could see that Mark Jankowski hadn’t braced himself for the hit given that he was turning away after getting rid of the puck and Wilson had time to stop and not deliver the hit.
Overall, I don’t think people can get mad if you want to call that hit ugly, even if it wasn’t to the head. After all, Jankowski had got rid of the puck a good second or two before absorbing the hit and a certain angle of the above video gives you a pretty good idea that Tom Wilson was committed to delivering that hit no matter what.
This is going to spark a lot of debate and we’ll see what happens when it comes to whether or not the league will get involved today and impose a suspension on the power forward but, whatever happens, there is no doubt that Tom Wilson plays the role of villain perfectly in the NHL and whether you like him or not, he’s a damn good hockey player who can have a major impact on a game in more ways than one as was the case on Thursday night.