Fight Night, Redux

For far too long, Bob Hartley's Atlanta Thrashers have been tossing around questionably-legal elbows, knees and slashes like rice at a wedding. Wednesday night, Caps' coach Glen Hanlon and his Washington Capitals had had enough. But before we get into that, let's get a few facts out there for context:
  1. Entering Wednesday night's game with Atlanta, the Caps were last in the NHL with only three fighting majors on the season.
  2. In an eight-day span during which the Caps got beat by Division rival Carolina twice by a combined scored of 9-1, there wasn't a single fighting major in either game.
  3. There was not a single fighting major in Wednesday night's game until after Andy Sutton - a player who has, in the past, been suspended for a cheap shot - went head-hunting on Mike Green.
With those out of the way, we can discuss the end to Wednesday night's game in context. Simply put, Hanlon was mad as hell and he wasn't going to take it any more:
"It was a 4-2 hockey game and someone, a 21-year-old kid with a cut mouth [Green], gets his head knocked off with a high hit and one of their players [Ilya Kovalchuk] is grabbing our captain [Chris Clark], grabbing his cage and shaking it," Hanlon said. "What the heck are they supposed to do?"
What they did was release the hounds. Donald Brashear paired off with Vitali Vishnevski, Matt Bradley and Greg de Vries danced and Marian Hossa wisely turtled (but still somehow got five for fighting and a ten minute misconduct) rather than face John Erskine's fists. Immediately after the next faceoff, Brian Sutherby went after a visibly disinterested Brad Larsen, and Thrasher captain Scott Mellanby did the same to Jamie Heward following the next puck drop. All told, there were 135 minutes in penalties (if my math is correct) in a four-second span of hockey time, but the fireworks didn't end there:
The animosity continued in the hallway between the teams' locker rooms afterward, with Hanlon reportedly screaming at Hartley. In the game's waning seconds, Hanlon, on the Capitals' bench, gestured toward Hartley, flapping his arms like a chicken. Hartley responded by mouthing the words, "Next time."
Next time is a story for, well, next time. But regarding what happened last night, respect in the NHL is a two-way street. When you respect your opponent and the way they play the game, that respect is reciprocated. When the other team doesn't respect your players, however - when they send a cheap-shot artist out there to run players in the dying minutes of a game that has been all but decided - sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands (or fists, as it were) before someone gets hurt. And that's exactly what happened Wednesday night.

Vishnevski's face will heal. But if Sutton cleanly landed his shot on Green, the kid could be out with a concussion for who knows how long. And if the Caps let Sutton get away with that garbage, who knows what liberties he or his teammates might take next. Now, at least, Atlanta knows that if they mess with the bull... well, you know.

And while Hartley may paint his team as a bunch of choir boys, Mellanby had the proper prospective on what happened:
"Obviously, they took exception to [Sutton's] hit -- they were defending themselves, I don't necessarily agree with the way they went about it [captainese for "we would have done the exact same thing"], but they've developed a lot of pride and identity with that team. That comes from Hanlon, and I mean that as a compliment. He's instilled a great work ethic in that team and great pride. That was just old-school hockey, and I don't have any problem with it. It's part of the game, it happens."
The bottom line is this: Sutton ran Green and Ben Clymer went after him for it, but nothing came of it. Feeling that the Thrashers hadn't answered sufficiently for that hit and others that happened throughout the night and the other three games in the season series thus far, Hanlon put out a few toughs to send a message, and they certainly did send that message. Sutherby's fight was overkill (and who knows if Hanlon sent him out there to fight - Suts may have just wanted to do his part as an alternate captain and decided to drop the gloves on his own), and Mellanby's was similarly unnecessary. But Clymer said it best: "We’re going to stick together and if things get ugly, teams know they’ll have to face all 20 [of us]."

Without question, fines and suspensions will - and should - follow. But they're all a small price to pay for respect and pride. And I can't imagine there's too much outrage throughout the rest of the League that the Thrashers got their lunch handed to them for once.
(Cross-posted at SeSo)

UPDATE
: Here's the action from the final 1:30 or so (thanks to Eric at Off Wing for the pointer)


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