After dropping games to the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers, the Washington Capitals and their fans were anxious to finally get on the right side of the ledger against a hated rival. It's nice beating teams in other divisions and the New Jersey Devils, but it's nicer beating the teams you hate. Last night, the Capitals finally got to beat a team we hate. Even better, they finally got a big performance from a young player who's been quiet so far this season. We've talked about the struggles of Andre Burakovsky and wondered whether playing him with the other skilled Swedes could break him out of his funk. Well he didn't quite break out of his funk...
But Tom Wilson did.
And against the Flyers, that's all the more fitting and satisfying. Burakovsky was able to draw three penalties (normally Wilson's bailiwick), two of which the Caps scored on, and one of which they scored on but the league once again decided not to count because they hate history and scoring. But against all odds, Wilson provided more offense than Burakovsky, picking up a couple assists, including one with the Swedish duo of Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. (We'll just ignore that Wilson was in the box when Claude Giroux scored to give the Flyers their second, and last, lead of the game... the second straight power-play goal against for which he's been in the box.)
Just past the midway point in the third period with the Flyers pressing to get the game back within one (and don't sleep on that save by Braden Holtby just about a minute before the goal), the Caps had Jay Beagle, Brooks Laich, and Tom Wilson on the ice. Pretty much nobody expects that to turn into a goal. Somehow it did. Mostly because the Caps replaced two of those three players, but we digress.
The Caps dumped the puck in and went for a line change. With Wilson applying the standard token forecheck pressure to give his teammates the time to change, the Flyers gave him an opportunity:
Two Flyers' defensemen whose names I can't be bothered to look up managed to botch a wide open, pressureless breakout. Following a bad pass from Anonymous Flyers Defender Number 1 and some hesitation from Anonymous Flyers Defender Number 2 (as if Wilson wasn't going to take the body, but sure, just hold that puck in the corner), Tom Wilson turned his token pressure into a seek and destroy mission. Once Wilson knocked the puck free, he turned to find the support of his probably-grinder linemates and ... oh snap, that's Marcus Johansson. With Nick Backstrom. And no defensive help in site.
Just don't botch the pass. Just don't botch the pass.
Tom Wilson didn't botch the pass, and as everyone in orange turned to face Johansson cutting through the slot, Johansson found the other wide open Swede, Nicklas Backstrom. Johansson did a great job selling the shot, and then made a great, underappreciated pass on his body and behind him. Steve Mason stepped out to the top of the crease to take away Johansson's angle, but instead he took away his own ability to defend Backstrom's shot. Game.
We talked about Burakovsky simplifying his game, and it doesn't get much simpler than that. Sure, it's not fair to expect Burakovsky to bring the physical presence that Tom Wilson brings, and it's definitely too optimistic to expect the other 28 NHL teams to play defense like that, but Wilson took what was presented to him and he came away with his second assist of the game. Let's just give him credit where it's due and let him have his moment, it's nice to have him on the top half of the scoresheet this time.