The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Pregame notes: Tom Wilson staying out of penalty box

Marcus Johansson, center, and Tom Wilson celebrate Johansson’s goal against Winnipeg on Tuesday. (John Woods/The Canadian Press via AP)

For Halloween, a family of Capitals fans dressed up their young son as Tom Wilson serving a minor penalty. After Thursday’s morning skate, Wilson met the family and signed the cardboard penalty box, recognizing imitation as the sincerest form of flattery.

But while Wilson had more than 150 penalty minutes in each of the past three seasons, he hasn’t had a minor penalty this season. His 10 penalty minutes through the first nine games have been two fighting majors.

Playing with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson among the Capitals’ top six forwards, Wilson must spend more time on the ice instead of in the penalty box to maintain that line’s chemistry.

“Well, now that you’ve jinxed it,” Wilson said. “You know what? I’m just trying to play my game. You never want to take a penalty. I’ve been trying to play a little more hockey and evolve my role on the team, kind of offensively. I’ve been playing with Kuzy and JoJo. You want to kind of keep the lines intact when you can. You don’t want to be messing things up going to the box. The league is such a power-play league these days that when you put your team down, it’s never a good thing. I’ve been fortunate this year, but I’m not going to say it because I don’t want to jinx it. I’m just going to continue to play my game. It’s nothing that I’ve really been consciously doing. It’s just kind of happened that way.”

The line of Kuznetsov, Johansson and Wilson has been one of Washington’s hottest in the past three games, with three even-strength goals in that span, including a goal by Wilson. Against Vancouver and Calgary over the weekend, Wilson played more than 16 minutes, the most ice time he’s had since February.

“I think he’s showing he can play with higher guys,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said. “I think he’s a good fit with those two. They seem to have a little bit of a chemistry. JoJo’s going good, Kuzy’s going good and Tom sort of complements them. It gives us balance throughout our lineup. It’s good.”

>>> Trotz was asked whether seeing the Chicago Cubs win the World Series was heartening, considering the sports history of Washington.

“The Cubbies winning is just a good story,” he said. “There is no curse. They just haven’t won in a long time. And now they’re probably going to win for a long time. You see that in sport. We talked about this: Before Detroit won a bunch of Cups, they were a strong team for 15, 20 years, then they started winning Cups. In sports, it’s a great thing. I just like the way the drama played out. There’s two cities that had different — I don’t want to say curses — just different backgrounds. And they’re going to Game 7 and they’re going to extra innings. And it made me stay up real late. I was ready to go to bed early. When it was 6-3, I was saying park it.”

>>> The Capitals face the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night, two days after playing them at MTS Centre. Washington was out-shot, 45-27, in that game.

“It’s the first time we’ve been really out-shot this year,” Trotz said. “Chances were fairly even, and the game was fairly even, but the second half, I didn’t think we were as good as we were in the first part. They’re a good hockey team. They’re fast, and they’ve got some exciting young guys.”

Despite alluding to potentially playing Taylor Chorney or Daniel Winnik in Thursday’s game, Trotz didn’t make any changes to the lineup, meaning Winnik is a healthy scratch for a fourth straight game. Chorney has yet to make his season debut. Trotz said to expect Winnik in the lineup Saturday.

“I just talked to Chor,” Trotz said. “He knows where we are. We’re going okay and we have a whole bunch of games, so he’s fine. Obviously, I’d like to get him in, but just felt that where we are with our guys, we’ll just stay with it for a bit here. We’ve got a ton of games, and now this is where you get guys a little bumped up and banged up. …

“On the front end with Daniel, I just thought that our sort of fourth line, Beagle’s line — I don’t know if they should have a number or not — but it’s been really good the last three games, so they deserve to go and stay together.”

Here’s the projected lineup against the Jets on Thursday:

Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Justin Williams
Marcus Johansson-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky-Lars Eller-T.J. Oshie
Zach Sanford-Jay Beagle-Brett Connolly

Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen
Dmitry Orlov-John Carlson
Brooks Orpik-Nate Schmidt

Braden Holtby (starter)
Philipp Grubauer

Daniel Winnik
Taylor Chorney