As the Capitals kept on rolling last weekend, extending their win streak to fourteen games with wins of the Thrashers and the Penguins, fans were treated not only to victories but to some entertaining hockey - and not just from the home town team. Atlanta, in it's first game of the post-Kovalchuk era, put forth a solid team effort and, as unappealing as it may be the admit, both of Sidney Crosby's goals on Sunday afternoon were examples of impressive hockey. That said, each game was also marred by the most decried trends in modern hockey. the desire to fight after a clean hit. On Friday it was Chris Thorburn going after John Erskine for a hit on Marty Reasoner; Sunday it was Brooks Orpik trying to instigate something with Brian Pothier after a hip check from the Capitals defenseman.
Discussion on fighting after clean hits has been a fairly popular topic this season. A monster early season hit from Willie Mitchell on Jonathan Toews got the discussion started, we've weighed in on it from time to time here at Japers' Rink, as has Pensburgh, TSN's Bob McKenzie recently had an opinion piece on the topic, and Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy has touched on the issue recently in his discussion of a Steve Ott/Cal Clutterbuck fight. Opinion on the matter is near unanimous: fighting after clean hits is ridiculous and embarrassing, and the hockey would would be better off without it. The reality, though, is that ending fights after clean hits is much easier said than done.
For an objective observer it's easy enough to condemn these types of fights as petty, absurd, and even insulting to the nature of the game. For someone with a vested interest, it's not so simple.
When someone who's a general hockey fan see Toews get lit up by Mitchell they think to themselves "Wow, what a monster hit. Hope that kid's okay". When a Blackhawks fan sees the hit, he thinks "Holy crap, that's our captain and best forward laying on the ice like he's been shot! Someone get that guy!" By the same token when I see Clutterbuck's hit on Richards, I think "Nice hit. Love that Clutterbuck kid", while a Stars fan's worried about whether a big hit to their leading scorer is going to hurt the team's playoff chances. As Capitals fans it's easy for us to condemn fights after hard, clean hits when they involved Western Conference teams, but it wouldn't be so easy if we were seeing Brooks Orpik, Dan Carcillo, or Aaron Voros lining up Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and Alexander Semin.
Therein lies the issue. Collective opinions are simply the amalgamation of individual opinions, and if Capitals fans want vengeance for hard hits on Capitals players, Stars fans want vengeance for hard hits on Stars players, Red Wings fans want vengeance for hard hits on Red Wings players, and so on, the collective opinion isn't fights after clean hits should be removed from the game, it's that player should be protected (or at least avenged, as the case may be). Changing the opinion on these kinds of fights starts with getting fans, players, and coaches to denounce them even when it's their guy who's being hit - and that's something that I can't see happening any time soon.