One day after Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson was suspended, teammate T.J. Oshie on Thursday said Wilson has been unfairly “taken away” by the NHL.
Wilson was given a three-game suspension after hitting Pittsburgh Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese in the head during the Capitals’ 4-3 win in Game 3 of their second-round playoff series Tuesday night. Aston-Reese suffered a broken jaw and concussion.
“The discipline? I think it’s pretty extreme. I think it’s very extreme, actually,” Oshie said. “It’s two guys that see each other. They both go to hit each other, and usually one guy loses that battle. I’ve been on both ends of it.
“I think for sure — and I want to get this point across — you never want to see a guy break his jaw and leave a game like that. I don’t know what the concussion status is, but I’ve had that before, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I agree with [penalizing] the stupid hits, the unnecessary hits. But this is playoff time. It’s man vs. man. If one guy falls down, that’s just the way it goes.”
Other Capitals players also disagreed with the three-game ban, which was handed down by the NHL Department of Player Safety.
“Yeah, very [surprised],” said Devante Smith-Pelly, who will replace Wilson on the Capitals’ top line alongside captain Alex Ovechkin. “… The night it happened, the league called and said it was fine. Shoulder-to-shoulder. We wake up the next day and see a hearing.
“It is what it is. … I could go on all day, but it is what it is. We just have to move on. Next guy up.”
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan called for the NHL to take action against Wilson, who had taken out Penguins players with hits that involved the head in consecutive games. His hit on the Penguins’ Brian Dumoulin forced the defenseman to exit Game 2 early in the second period. Dumoulin returned to the lineup for Game 3.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz called it “a hard hockey hit” in defending Wilson: “Shoulder-on-shoulder,” he said. ” Both guys braced for it.”
The NHL sent out mixed signals on the hit after Game 3. Paul Devorski, the NHL on-site supervisor of officials, told the media that game officials consulted with one another about the hit and decided not to penalize Wilson.
“They all got together,” said Devorski, “and they said, ‘You know what, we’ve got a good, clean check here.'”
That word reached the Capitals, but the NHL Department of Player Safety, which is in charge of supplemental discipline, had another camera angle that showed Wilson making Aston-Reese’s head the main point of contact. It also felt Wilson hit with a “lifting” motion.
The nature of the hit, the severity of the injury and the fact that Wilson was twice suspended during the 2017-18 preseason resulted in the three-game ban.
Oshie said Aston-Reese needed to be more aware that Wilson was approaching.
“Generally, if I’m out against a heavier guy on the other team, I know that if I get the puck in this situation, I know where he is on the ice,” Oshie said. “I think that’s part of playing in the NHL. That’s part of being a mature, aware player. I think we have too many guys in the league now that think they can just go out and do what they want and if anybody touches them it’s going to be a penalty or suspension.
“I 100 percent agree with [penalizing] the hits to the head that are unnecessary, are directly targeted and you can tell they’re targeted. But I’m completely against taking away physicality from the game. Everyone talks about the game getting faster, stronger. Well, the hits are going to get faster and stronger. Tom is one of the best at it. And he gets punished for it sometimes because people are unaware, and then other times just because he’s stronger than other people.”
Oshie also pushed back at the Penguins players who felt the hit was unnecessary.
“I’d like for them to watch the hit. I’d like for them to break it down to me,” he said. “From what we see, it’s two guys that see each other. It’s a north/south hit. Tom goes straight through his body.
“Yes, his head gets hit. But there’s been a million times when I’ve gotten hit, I go to the ref, I say I was hit in the head, and the ref just says, ‘He’s bigger than you.’ That’s the way it goes. I’ve gotten blown up a couple times this year, and I didn’t complain about it.”
Wilson had been an integral part of the Capitals’ top line in this series, more than just offensively — as shown by his interference on Olli Maatta, which sprung Ovechkin for his game-winning goal in Game 3.
“He does a lot of good things for us,” Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “It’s unfortunate that people classify him a certain way because of a hit that went maybe an inch wrong. Everybody in here has a lot of respect for Tom as a player and as a person.”
Oshie said Wilson’s suspension will be a rallying cry for the Capitals as they enter Game 4 with a 2-1 series lead.
“The boys are fired up,” Oshie said. “We had a sense of confidence. I think any arrogance that we might have had from our last couple of victories has been squashed. The fact that we’re losing Tom, that he’s been taken away for a couple games here, we’re fired up to play, and we want to win the game for him.”