ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Washington Capitals woke up in Minnesota for the start of a four-game road trip with a pleasant surprise: Tom Wilson was back.
So was the vigor for the Stanley Cup champions, who’ve started their title-defense season rather slowly.
Wilson returned early from his player-safety suspension and scored a first-period goal, helping the Capitals cool off the Wild with a 5-2 victory on Tuesday night.
“He’s a key player for our team. Brings so much energy both on the ice and off the ice, so a huge lift for the team to get him back,” said Andre Burakovsky, who had a goal and an assist.
Dmitry Orlov had his first two goals of the season and an assist, T.J. Oshie also scored and backup goalie Pheonix Copley made 26 saves for the Capitals, who welcomed Wilson back to the right wing on the first line with captain Alex Ovechkin and center Evgeny Kuznetsov.
An arbitrator’s reduction of Wilson’s 20-game ban for an illegal blindside hit to the head in a preseason game made him immediately eligible again.
“It was a good game by the fellas, and it felt good to put together a good 60 minutes,” Wilson said. “Hopefully we can get this thing going a little.”
Mikko Koivu and Matt Dumba had goals for the Wild, who played at home for the first time in 17 days after a 5-2 finish on their franchise-record seven-game road swing. They fell to 5-1-2 at Xcel Energy Center, becoming the last team in the NHL to lose at home in regulation this season.
“You get spoiled. They weren’t as good as they were for the last 12 games,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, whose club was 10-2 over the previous four weeks.
The Wild have given up the first goal in 13 of their 18 games, though they entered the night tied for the best record in the league in those situations at 8-3-1. Orlov’s snap shot scraped the crossbar and found the back of the upper right corner just 6:33 into the game.
Then Orlov, who was recently split up with usual blue-line partner Matt Niskanen in an attempt by first-year coach Todd Reirden to seek a spark amid the sluggish start, set up Wilson in his season debut. Orlov maneuvered around Dumba and fed Wilson for a one-timer with 27.4 seconds left before the first intermission.
Ryan Suter was chasing Wilson, who was caught between the defenseman and Devan Dubnyk in a collision that knocked the Wild goalie to the ice and left him down and dazed for a moment. Wilson picked up a goaltender interference penalty while scoring the goal. He was second in the NHL in penalty minutes last season.
“The puck went in the net before he touched the goalie, so there wasn’t much you could do about it,” Boudreau said. “That’s the way he plays.”
Eric Staal thought he had a goal for the Wild early in the second period, but that was waved off because he kicked the puck, one of several near-misses for the Wild. Instead, Burakovsky scored soon after for a 3-0 lead. Suter and Dumba, the first blue-line pair, were on the ice for each of the first three goals.
“It didn’t look like we were connecting very well, and some of the mental mistakes we made are going to cost you against a good offensive team,” Staal said.
The Wild went a whopping 14:03 without a shot on goal, until Staal’s wrist shot was stopped by Copley. Koivu’s backhander trickled through Copley’s pads to put the Wild on the board about a minute later, and Marcus Foligno tried to keep the momentum going by dropping the gloves and fighting Wilson. The Wild had 22 of their 28 shots in the second half of the game, but they just couldn’t convert enough of those chances.
Wilson just finished serving his fourth suspension in a little more than a year, this for a blindside hit to the head of an opponent during a preseason game . His presence gave Washington’s lagging penalty kill a boost.
“I didn’t expect him to have as strong a game as he did,” Rierden said.
Dumba’s goal was the only tally for Minnesota in six power-play opportunities. The Capitals, who entered the night ranked third-worst in the league on the penalty kill, allowed six power-play goals over their previous four games.
NOTES: This was the eighth straight win by the Capitals over the Wild, whose last win in the series was at Washington on March 5, 2015. All but one of the victories by the Capitals during the streak have come in regulation. … This was the third two-goal game of Orlov’s 382-game career. … Staal has 30 goals and 44 assists in 77 career games against the Capitals, his most points against any other team. … With his 341st career goal, Parise passed Dave Christian to become the leading scorer among Minnesota-born players in NHL history. … Dubnyk stopped 28 shots.
Capitals: Play at Winnipeg on Wednesday.
Wild: Host Pacific Division-leading Vancouver on Thursday.
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