Photo by NBC Sports

Me: No way the NHL suspends Wilson. Nope – my column is solid.  (See:  The Wilson Effect)

Also me: (rolling eyes) Of course the NHL suspended Tom Wilson. Never any doubt the league would do the right thing. Better amend my column.

So – “The Wilson Effect, Even if He is Suspended?” How about, “The Wilson Effect – and I don’t mean babbling to a volleyball because you are stranded on a desert island . . .”

Okay, before I am lost on a tangent, let me say that the risk of writing a sports column is that you will be exposed, but what stands is that, essentially, the Pens need to focus on reclaiming their identity regardless of the Washington response to the Wilson suspension.

The Wilson Effect does not have to feature Tom Wilson in the starring role. It will be interesting to see if Barry Trotz trots out Goon Number 2 to fill the Wilson void. Certainly Wilson’s replacement will have even less of the marginal hockey skills of Wilson, but his role of LeTang/Oleksiak/Penguins’ active and inactive roster pesterer cannot be that hard to fill. Just fly around the ice with reckless abandon and smash what’s skating in a black jersey.

Or – the Capitals will have an opposite response and employ a genuine NHL-caliber forward.

Either way, tonight’s Game 4 should be an interesting study in how one suspension and the absence of one player can affect two teams and three games.

Five bigger factors now:

  1.  Is Kessel hurt, and, if not, has he been abducted and replaced with a damaged model that can no longer shoot the puck or just has no interest? Please, somebody, find the real Phil Kessel.
  2. Blah, blah, blah – the Brassard trade was bad – he hasn’t fit in here – he can’t score – “Where’s, ‘Big-Game’ Brass?” I don’t know, maybe he’s hurt, too. Seems coincidental he missed a bunch of games at season’s end and has not come back so strong. Or maybe physical hockey is just not his thing. I suspect Brassard might show up if the Pens and Lightning both advance.
  3. Can Malkin, and the rest of the Pens, but mostly Malkin, please stop taking his gamely, impossibly stupid penalty?
  4. Can Murray regain his footing. I don’t think he’s been bad, but the Niskanen goal from Game 3 cannot ever go in. He also has had a handful of shots trickle through him and either go in or narrowly miss going in. He needs to steal a game or two for the Pens to come back and win this series.
  5. Can the Pens’ blue line find a solution when the Caps’ forecheck is swarming? This may be the biggest of all the remaining questions in the series besides: can the Pens take full advantage of the Wilson suspension, pay, “better attention to the details,” as Mike Sullivan likes to say, and flush the Caps out of the playoffs?

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