“I think the boys are fired up,” Oshie said following the Capitals’ morning skate at PPG Paints Arena. “We had a sense of confidence, and I think any arrogance that could have [come] from our last couple victories I think has been squashed from the fact that we’re losing Tom. He’s been taken away from us for a couple games here, and we’re fired up to play and we want to win the game for him.”
While going out of his way to say he did not wish injury upon any player — the victim of Wilson’s Game 3 hit, Pittsburgh rookie Zach Aston-Reese, suffered a broken jaw and a concussion, according to the Penguins — Oshie argued that hockey is being diminished if a bruising player such as Wilson isn’t allowed to ply his trade to the best of his ability. Wilson was not penalized for the second-period hit — which came directly in front of the Washington bench — even after the four on-ice officials conferred. Capitals officials also received word that the Toronto-based officiating supervisors deemed the hit legal.
But then the NHL’s Department of Player Safety issued Wilson’s suspension Wednesday evening.
“There was no penalty,” Oshie said. “The discipline, I think it’s pretty extreme. I think it’s very extreme, actually.
“I think it’s two guys that see each other. They both go to hit each other. And one guy, usually one guy loses that battle. I’ve been on both ends of it. I think for sure — and I want to get this point across — you never want to see a guy break his jaw and leave a game like that. I don’t know what the concussion status is, but I’ve had that before and that’s something I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. But it’s a physical game. And it seems little by little we’re taking physicality out of the game.”
Wilson, 24, had worked his way up the lineup to become a mainstay alongside star winger Alex Ovechkin and center Evgeny Kuznetsov. His absence for three games in a series the Capitals lead, two games to one, means Devante Smith-Pelly will move up to play opposite Ovechkin on Kuznetsov’s line.
But Oshie believes the anger in the Caps’ dressing room because of the suspension will have an emotional impact on the team.
“Physically, I think we can step up a little bit in his absence, because obviously people know when he’s on the ice — or apparently guys don’t know when he’s on the ice sometimes,” Oshie said. “And I think this can fire us up a little bit. I think it should. It fires me up that he’s not out there with us. I expect a certain level of hunger and determination out there from the group.”
Oshie’s reference to awareness wasn’t, he said, necessarily a shot at Aston-Reese, nor at Pittsburgh defenseman Brian Dumoulin, who was felled by a Wilson hit in Game 2 — a hit the NHL deemed legal. But he said the league is trending in a direction that concerns him. Protections are offered by the NHL, Oshie said, so players don’t protect themselves.
“Generally, if I’m out against a heavier guy on the other team, I know that if I get a puck in this situation, I know where he is on the ice,” Oshie said. “I think that’s part of playing in the NHL. That’s part of being a mature, aware player.
“I think we have too many guys in the league now that think they can just go out and do whatever they want and if anyone touches them it’s gonna be a penalty or a suspension. I think there has to be more emphasis on guys [being] aware of their surroundings. And I 100 percent agree with the hits to the head that are unnecessary, are directly targeted, and you can tell they’re targeted. But I’m completely against taking away physicality from the game.”
Wilson, 24, is listed at 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, while Aston-Reese is 6-foot, 204 pounds. In issuing the suspension, the NHL ruled that Wilson’s left shoulder made initial and primary contact with Aston-Reese’s head, and that Wilson could have avoided such a situation. In its ruling, the NHL also said it factored the injuries that resulted from the hit and Wilson’s history as a “repeat offender,” based on his four-game suspension to open the 2017-18 season.
The Penguins, naturally, agreed with the suspension. Oshie had a retort for that, too.
“I’d like for them to watch the hit,” he said. “I’d like for them to break it down to me. From what we see, it’s two guys that see each other. It’s a north-south hit. Tom goes straight through his body. Yes, the head gets hit. But there’s been a million times where I’ve gotten hit, I got to the ref, I say, ‘I was hit in the head,’ and the ref just says, ‘He’s bigger than you. That’s the way it goes.’”
Game 4 is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.