Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson is aware of the intensity that awaits on Oct. 13.
The team will face the New York Rangers in their season opener following a wild line brawl and more fights in the teams’ final showdown last season, all a result of fallout from that May 3 game.
“It’s a big spotlight on that game. I mean, that’s what makes sports great,” Wilson said. “The rivalries, the emotion, the passion — we’ll call it that to be polite. Social media’s a different monster, but that’s why hockey’s such a great game. Teammates sticking up for each other, hard-nosed game. So it’ll be exciting, I know everyone’s excited about it, but it’s just another hockey game.”
In that May 3 tilt with the Blueshirts, Wilson and Pavel Buchnevich got involved in a scrum in front of the Capitals crease. Artemi Panarin then jumped on Wilson’s back, and No. 43 threw him off and down onto the ice. Wilson was given a 10-minute misconduct, and the following day, New York released a statement on the matter calling Wilson’s actions a “horrifying act of violence” and saying George Parros was “unfit” for his role after Wilson wasn’t given a suspension.
After that, the team experienced several changes, firing head coach David Quinn, general manager Jeff Gorton and team president John Davidson. The team then brought in Chris Drury and Gerard Gallant to take over the helm. Then, in the offseason, New York brought in several tough guys, including Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Reaves.
However, Wilson believes that the reasoning for the team’s moves went beyond him.
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“There’s something with that team that probably had nothing to do with me, and it might have been the perfect storm. It all came to a tee at the right moment, and it was probably boiling over to begin with,” Wilson said. “And people like to jump on the part of whatever people are saying.”
The 6-foot-4 right wing also mentioned that he thinks New York’s offseason moves are a benefit.
“They obviously wanted to play tougher they wanted to bring in some grit,” Wilson said. “In the first place, it shouldn’t be a guy like Panarin jumping on my back. That whole situation — I won’t speak to it too much — but he shouldn’t feel like he ever should have to do that. So there are things in the game of hockey where teammates stand up for each other and stuff.”
Wilson also praised Panarin, calling him one of his favorite players to watch in the NHL right now. In regards to the Blueshirts’ offseason changes, Wilson attributes it to the toughness of the division, especially with guys like Zdeno Chara playing, and not himself.
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“Maybe it does a little bit have to do with the toughness of the division, but I wouldn’t credit that to me,” Wilson said. “I think those new guys in there are trying to make that team better, they’re trying to contend to make the playoffs. And you know, maybe that’s the professional answer. But I truly believe the Metro is a tough division, it’s not by any means me; there are other teams that play tough.
“I think the game trended speed and skill for so long and now there’s another wave of big and heavy and it does that. Like if you look back, it’s every five years, it seems like it shuffles over,” Wilson added. “I’m worried about what’s in this room and I’ve said that before, but it’s true. I’m worried about our guys, our organization, winning games and whatever another organization wants to do certainly made a few headlines. It was, I don’t know what to call it, a distraction or whatever, but it was a lot of heat on social media and stuff, but I mean that’s anyone these days on social media. It seems like a bit of a dark place.”
Overall, Wilson is ready to focus on the year ahead and move past the situation as a whole.
“Personally, I wanna have a good year. I wanna continue to get better as a group. We gotta continue to get better. That’s one game, it’ll be a fun one I’m sure,” Wilson said. “But I mean, it’s one game of 82, we don’t wanna put too much into that and get distracted by a little bit of the smoke, but it’ll be good. It’s just exciting to have some preseason to get the year going.”