Losers in five of their last six, the Washington Capitals are looking to bump the slump tonight at home against Calgary — and they’ll be leaning on their new-look top line to get it done.
Sophomore power forward Tom Wilson, playing in just his fourth game of the year, will stick with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin after the trio joined forces for the first time in Sunday’s loss to Arizona. While the move might come as a surprise to some — Wilson was a fourth-liner for almost all of last year — it’s something that head coach Barry Trotz has wanted to implement for a while.
Before Wilson fractured his fibula in what the Capitals called “a fall,” Coach Barry Trotz envisioned the 20-year-old skating beside Ovechkin and Backstrom, complementing the skilled top-line cornerstones with a physicality — “a bite,” Trotz called it. But the injury demanded patience, months of it, and accepting that Wilson needed time to heal before that possibility could become reality.
“He can also keep, as I say, the flies off him, if people want to take liberties,” Trotz said. “I know both [Ovechkin and Backstrom] can take care of themselves pretty well, but when you see 6-foot-5 young Mr. Wilson out there as well, who’s got a little bit of an edge, you think twice.”
Against Arizona, Wilson played a career-high 15:04 and tied Ovechkin with a team-high five hits, playing the big-bodied power role the club envisioned when it selected Wilson 16th overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft — one spot ahead of San Jose sniper Tomas Hertl.
“We don’t have enough net presence,” Trotz explained, per NHL.com. “We don’t have a lot of interior play. We need to be a better cycle team, we need to be a better down-low, filter-everything-to-the-net type of team. If we’re going to have success, we’re not at the net enough for me.
“If we’re at the net a little bit more, we’re going to keep things alive, we’re going to score a few more goals.”