Hockey is a game of nuances. Any number of routine things – a hit, a save, a faceoff win – can have an impact on the outcome of a game on any given night. Tuesday night in Wells Fargo Center in the second of a home and home series against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Washington Capitals fell victim to nuance — and the Flyers, 5-2.
In this case, it was a rookie who desperately sought to make an impact. Tom Wilson, who plays an average of five minutes per game, laid a hard check on Flyers forward Brayden Schenn in the second period. Schenn had trouble leaving the ice, and Wilson was given a 5-minute major for charging, five minutes for fighting, and a 10-minute game misconduct.
The Flyers scored twice on the ensuing 5-minute power play, dramatically changing the complexion of the game for the Capitals, who had otherwise matched wits with the home team thus far.
Wilson received a charging penalty for his hit on Schenn, which was the correct call. Adam Oates defended it, telling reporters after the game that he thought it was a clean hit.
Prior to Wilson’s hit, the Capitals and Flyers traded goals for much of the second period, but the score was a manageable 2-2. After Wilson’s hit, the Flyers led 4-2, and added another goal for good measure in the third period.
While the Capitals are not strangers to multi-goal deficits, there was no comeback in the cards Tuesday night. The 5-minute penalty kill sucked all the life out of the Capitals’ effort, and the Flyers owned all the momentum.
Braden Holtby, who shut the Flyers out in a 7-0 rout on November 1, played valiantly and made 30 saves in the loss, but wasn’t given much help from his defensemen. Karl Alzner and John Carlson, who were separated briefly last season, look like they might be due for a similar change.
It is unknown if Wilson will see any sort of supplemental discipline, since he didn’t leave his feet, and Schenn dropped his head at the last moment before impact. The caveat here for a player like Wilson, who is essentially an enforcer, is that while he wants to make the most of every shift — because he doesn’t get that many — he needs to be careful to not try too hard to make a splash. Trying too hard leads to stupid mistakes. And stupid mistakes – like overcompensating on a hit – can have an adverse impact on the team and the outcome of a game, like it did Tuesday night.