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Is The Donald Doing His Job?

A comment by Rink Reader Pete got me thinking (dangerous, I know). Pete basically asserts that when Donald Brashear drops the gloves it ends up giving the opposing team a boost because, as The Donald is one of the most feared enforcers in the League, when an opponent drops his gloves with the big guy and lives to tell about it, it pumps up his teammates (and in some cases a home crowd). Is Pete right?

First, the raw data:
  • The Caps are 3-6 in games in which Brashear has at least one fighting major.
  • The Caps have outscored opponents 16-14 in games after Brashear fights.
  • Only once has Brashear fought in a game that was tied at the time of the fight, and the Caps went on to win that game.
  • The team leading the game at the time of the Brashear fight(s) went on to win each of those games.
From the above, it's hard to draw any conclusion at all about Brashear's ability to change a game with his fists. Individual game stories, of course, tell more.

In the December 23 game at Toronto, the Caps had a 3-0 lead early in the third when Mats Sundin struck for two quick goals. Momentum had clearly swung, and soon thereafter, The Donald fought Wade Belak. The fight gave the Caps a chance to regroup, and they went on to hold on to that 3-2 win. That's the good.

In the December 30 game against the Rangers, Brash dropped the gloves twice, but it was what he did after the second fight - his sucker-punch to Aaron Ward that resulted in his ejection - that is noteworthy. Soon after the ejection, Ranger goon Colton Orr took a head-hunting run at Alex Ovechkin, a move he likely wouldn't have tried had Brash still been around. I was quite critical of Brashear at the time (still am), but it was the sucker punch and not the fight itself that was the subject of my ire (though I recognize that the two aren't completely separable). That's the not-so-good.

Each of Brash's fights has its own story, but what does this quick glance at The Donald's fight card tell us about the impact his fights have on a game? Not much, really. Ask AO, however, how having Brashear around impacts a game and I bet you'll get an earful. And at the end of the day, that gets more to the point of what Brashear's job is. It's not to fight (or make ridiculously sick passes like he did on last night's Ben Clymer goal), but rather to protect the team's most valued assets. Sure, sometimes a fight can change the momentum of a game (as it did in Toronto), but if a team needs to watch one of their own get his head soaked with haymakers in order to decide to start trying, there's something wrong with the team. Brashear has been around a while and he knows when to fight and when not to, and thus far this season it looks like, for the most part, he's making the right decisions.

Table 1 - Donald Brashear's 2006-07 Fight Card
[Date vs. Team (opponent, win/loss/draw per; time of fight, score at time of fight (Caps' score first); final score (Caps' score first)]

Nov. 11 vs. New York Rangers (Colton Orr, win); 2:34 of the first, 0-0; 3-1
Nov. 22 vs. Atlanta (Vitaly Vishnevksi, win); 18:58 of the third, 2-4; 2-4
Dec. 6 vs. Ottawa (Danny Bois, win); 12:18 of the second, 2-1; 6-2
Dec. 8 vs. Anaheim (George Parros, win); 1:48 of first, 0-1; 1-6
Dec. 23 at Toronto (Wade Belak, loss); 4:45 of third, 3-2; 3-2
Dec. 26 at Buffalo (Andrew Peters, loss); 10:19 of first, 0-5; 3-6
Dec. 27 vs. Montreal (Aaron Downey, win); 2:57 of second, 0-2; 1-4
Dec. 30 at New York Rangers (Orr, win; Brendan Shanahan, win); 19:14 of second, 7:39 of third, 0-3; 1-4
Jan. 11 at Tampa Bay (Andre Roy, draw); 2:15 of second, 1-2; 4-5