WASHINGTON -– Capitals forward Tom Wilson did not miss a beat. That's what happens when a player sits the first 14 games of a season because of an NHL-mandated suspension for a hit to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in a preseason game.
With his suspension reduced from 20 games to 16, Wilson was suddenly eligible to play Nov. 13 when Washington played a game against the Minnesota Wild.
Wilson scored a goal in the first period – and ironically was penalized on the same play for running into the goalie.
Wilson sees Minnesota again tonight when the Capitals host the Wild at Capital One Arena (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington). That first game in St. Paul sparked a turnaround for the Capitals, who were lethargic early in the season as they tried to stay emotionally engaged after last spring's dramatic championship run through the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Wilson's return against the Wild had a visceral effect. The players had a jump not seen often in a 7-6-3 start to the season that included back-to-back home losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Arizona Coyotes.
The Capitals won 5-2 that night against the Wild and went on an 8-2-0 run in Wilson's first 10 games. He had eight goals and seven assists in those games before sustaining a concussion during a fight in a Dec. 4 loss at the Vegas Golden Knights.
Wilson missed three more games and has only played 55 total. But he's had a major impact on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and either center Evgeny Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom. Wilson has 21 goals and 16 assists. Those are both career highs. His 37 points are also a career best. And that's all in 23 fewer games than the 78 he played last season. There are eight games left for Wilson to top 40 points for the first time.
The lower-body injury to Michal Kempny sustained Wednesday means Christian Djoos is back in the lineup. He will be on the top pair with John Carlson. Djoos is playing just his second game since Feb. 23. The Capitals will be experimenting here down the stretch thinking Kempny will be out for a while. It's a good opportunity for Djoos, who has played with Carlson before.
Washington will not recall a defensemen from AHL Hershey for now. They will stick with six unless another player is needed during the remaining three games of this four-game homestand.
Alex Ovechkin couldn't find the back of the net in Wednesday's 5-4 overtime loss to Tampa Bay, but he is still just two goals shy of 50 for his career. That would be his eighth 50-goal season. Ovechkin finished last year with 49. Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy have had more (nine each).
Ovechkin always torches Minnesota with 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in just 15 career games.
That's his highest goals-per-game average against any franchise.
No surprise here as the Capitals don't have any more back-to-back games and will ride Holtby down the stretch until they possibly clinch the Metropolitan Division. They lead by three points over the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins and have eight games to go.
Holtby is 8-2-0 in his career against Minnesota with one shutout and a .922 save percentage.
The Capitals have won eight games in a row against Minnesota, led by former Washington coach Bruce Boudreau.
Expect a good push from the Wild, however, who are still in the playoff chase in the Western Conference. At 34-31-9, they have 77 points and are one point behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second and final wild card spot.
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly
Andre Burakovsky – Nic Dowd – Travis Boyd
Christian Djoos – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Nick Jensen
Scratches: Chandler Stephenson, Dmitrij Jaskin
Injured: Michal Kempny
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NHL Power Rankings: Heading toward a Caps-Bolts series?
Caps Mailbag: Potential playoff call-ups from Hershey