While Tom Wilson is talk of town, Penguins ‘focused on playing’

HC at Noon delves deeper into the Tom Wilson hit on Penguins' Zach Aston-Reese, wondering if there's a chance that the NHL Player Safety crew will use his hit the game before as evidence.

CRANBERRY, Pa. – Sidney Crosby’s team is down 2-1 in their second-round series, and so, on an off-day ahead of Game 4, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain decided to take part in an optional skate, because he figured he could work on a few aspects of his game with fewer players on the ice.

That’s maybe the best player in the world, who’s averaging nearly two points per game in these playoffs, saying he needs a little extra work.

OK, then.

And when Crosby was finished, still sweating, having removed only his helmet, he sat in the Penguins’ pristine practice dressing room and he tossed up his hands in response to the first question he faced.

It wasn’t about what his Penguins need to do to get back in this one. It wasn’t about his eight goals, or the production of his linemate, young Jake Guentzel, who leads the playoffs scoring race with 19 points. It wasn’t about how Pittsburgh has to limit the Washington Capitals‘ two-on-one chances, which cost them Game 3. It wasn’t even about speculation that Crosby may have spat at a Capitals player after a whistle on Tuesday night — during a moment of verbal jarring, while Alex Ovechkin pulled on his collar.

So, the question in question wasn’t any of those questions.

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No, it was about Tom Wilson.

“It’s my job to play,” Crosby said, from beneath the brim of a black Penguins ball cap. “I’m going to focus on playing and let everyone else whose job it is to worry about those hits take care of that.

“I’m focused on playing.”

And thank goodness for that.

In this series with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to offensive firepower — the top three point-producers in these playoffs are featured here, in Guentzel, Crosby and Ovechkin — still, it’s Toronto-born Wilson who’s the talk of the town.

It’s tiring, but also sadly necessary. The NHL is reviewing a second Wilson hit to the head in as many games, this time one that concussed and broke the jaw of winger Zach Aston-Reese, who’s going to need surgery.

The six-foot-four, 218-pound Wilson has been suspended in the past, and he doesn’t have what you’d call a sparkling reputation, but what irked many about this latest hit, as it should have, was the sight of Wilson laughing on the bench afterwards while Aston-Reese lay on the ice.

Obviously, Penguins fans (you should have heard the boos at PPG Paints Arena) and players weren’t too pleased with that.

“I don’t see the point of laughing when somebody’s hurt,” said veteran defender Kris Letang. “Whether it’s clean or not, it’s not something you do.”

And Capitals head coach Barry Trotz says it’s not something his first-line right-winger did or would do, either.

“I saw the same thing, and I can tell you this: Tom is very respectful for anyone who’s in a situation and possibly injured. He wouldn’t do that,” Trotz said. “What happened was, 19,000 people were booing him and something funny was said on the bench. A guy made a funny comment, ‘He’s got all his friends in the building,’ something like that. That’s why he was smiling.

“I do take a bit of offense. I understand what’s coming out of the Penguins locker room, but that was not the case. I’m 100 per cent sure of that, I was right there and one of the guys made a statement about all the booing and all that.”

Capitals centre Jay Beagle said he came up with “a joke or two, to keep it light.”

“I don’t even know if he heard me because the crowd was screaming so loud, but, I mean, yeah. I don’t know if he laughed at me or not,” Beagle said.

Now that we have that out of the way, whatever the situation around Wilson, most concerning to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins is that they’re one day away from a pivotal Game 4 at home, with a chance to tie this series back up.

“We’re trying to focus our attention on our game and how we can improve and put ourselves in the best opportunity and give ourselves the best chance to win games,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “And that’s where the focus is.”

That’s exactly where it ought to be, too.

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