It took Tom Wilson one shift to pull one of his usual shenanigans.
Skating into the Blue Jackets’ zone off the opening faceoff Tuesday at Capital One Arena, the Washington Capitals' biggest pest sent a pass to Alex Ovechkin before “accidentally” bowling over rookie goalie Daniil Tarasov.
Wilson, who’s 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, fell to the ice after throwing his full weight into Tarasov. It was just his latest collision with a Blue Jackets player, and as usual, Wilson played it off like he hadn't seen his opponent – in this case, a 6-5, 196-pound opponent, whose size makes him hard to miss.
That was strike one with Erik Gudbranson, a hulking, tough veteran defenseman the Blue Jackets hired last summer as their new sheriff for such situations. Gudbranson confronted Wilson and delivered a few cross words before a cross-check that served as a warning not to let it happen again.
It happened again.
Wilson didn’t appreciate Blue Jackets center Cole Sillinger chopping at his stick in the Capitals’ zone late in the second period, so he verbally confronted the 19-year-old forward after Tarasov stopped his wrist shot at the other end. That would’ve been fine had it ended there, but Wilson also yanked Sillinger to the ice and caused an awkward fall.
Gudbranson got into Wilson’s face immediately, dropped his gloves and nearly took a fighting instigator before each was sent to the penalty box for roughing. Once the doors shut, they continued the conversation in a way that made it seem like a fight might happen when they got out.
It didn’t, but Wilson was silenced for the rest of the Blue Jackets’ 7-6 overtime win.
He wasn’t eager to fight Gudbranson and it’s hard to blame him. Gudbranson doesn’t fight often but often inflicts damage when he does. That’s why opposing players tend to tread lightly around him and why the Blue Jackets signed Gudbranson to a four-year deal worth $16 million, a sum that general manager Jarmo Kekalainen called “the price of doing business.”
Gudbranson also took a –4 plus/minus number Tuesday for being on the ice during four Capitals even-strength goals, but that’s a stat that can be deceiving. The impact of muting Wilson was not.
It wasn’t the first time the mistreatment of younger teammates has riled up Gunbranson either.
His first fight this season was sparked by a hit on rookie Jake Christiansen in a loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Gudbranson also pummeled Chicago Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk for taking “dangerous” runs at rookie Kent Johnson in December.
Katchouk (6-2, 206) didn’t want to fight, but Gudbranson forced him into it and ended the scrap with a huge overhand right after lifting his “turtled” opponent off the ice.
“I think people know he’s a pretty tough customer, so I don’t think teams are taking liberties on us like they did last year,” said Kekalainen. “It’s really important for our young group that they’ll have that type of guy around, who looks after them.”
Second power-play unit giving Columbus Blue Jackets top results
The Blue Jackets are one of the NHL’s most dangerous teams on power plays, and one reason is the second unit’s success. Columbus has scored 10 power-play goals in its past 12 games. The second group has either been fully or partially on the ice for nine of them.
That’s impressive considering the second group of Johnson, Sillinger, Nick Blankenburg, Emil Bemstrom and Jack Roslovic usually isn’t deployed until there’s less than a minute remaining on a two-minute man advantage.
Roslovic scored the latest goal for the second unit, cutting the Capitals’ lead to 4-3 late in the second period Tuesday, but Bemstrom, Sillinger and Johnson have also capped power plays in the past month.
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Erik Gudbranson providing toughness Columbus Blue Jackets lacked