After John Erskine and Jared Boll dropped the gloves Thursday, a quality fight’s memory got lost in the aftermath of Erskine leaving the game in the next period as an injury “precautionary” measure, according to Bruce Boudreau, which forced the Capitals to rotate 5 defensemen for the remainder of the game.
But it was a fight that earned some post-game reflection from Erskine’s teammate Jason Chimera, who got the Caps’ game winning goal in overtime.
“He’s done so much for our team that way…that’s huge,” Chimera said of Erskine and what his fight meant to the game. “It was a real spirited fight. For me, it’s one of the most unselfish things you can do for your team. He doesn’t get noticed too often, but it’s good for a team.”
It’s learned along with hockey ABCs that play gets more physical the closer you get to Lord Stanley, and fights can be the needed shot of adrenaline for a team’s bench. The Capitals, according to HockeyFights.com (a site that’s more addictive than Facebook), rank 13th in the league in total fights this season as of March 30, with at least four potential Eastern Conference playoff opponents (assuming the Caps go to multiple rounds) ahead of them or tied: Flyers, the Rangers, the Penguins, and the Bruins. The Capitals are at 44 fights on the season, a higher total than any previous season since 2003-2004, when they had 48. Their high fight numbers are even more impressive considering the one player on their roster who fills the role of enforcer, DJ King, has only played in 16 games.
Are the Caps any good when they drop the gloves, though? Out of those 44 fights, Caps players have won 14. Ten fights were voted draws, which leaves 20 wins by opponents. Matt Hendricks, who’s been in the most fights, is 3-7-4. But at least the Caps’ high fight total shows a willingness to drop the gloves — an impressive aspect for a team that boasts as much skill as any roster in the NHL.
A few more notes from Thursday’s game:
- The good and the bad: with the playoffs four games away, Mike Knuble knows the Capitals can play better, which is good for fans who watched the team blow a lead yesterday, but not encouraging that the Capitals are still toying with their opponents rather than shutting them down. “I want us to be better, I know we can be better,” Knuble said after the Caps squeaked out a 4-3 overtime winner against 23rd-ranked Columbus. “That’s two games in a row where teams could come back late on us in the third.” Chimera agreed: “We got to go in [to the playoffs] riding a high, instead of playing kind of mediocre.”Knuble said he thought the Caps needed to be stronger in their own end, but that, one could argue (though Knuble didn’t), came with a plausible explanation, since the Caps went down a defenseman after Erskine left the game in the second period.
- Speaking of defensemen, the biggest buzz surrounding the team Thursday was about a player who wasn’t even on the ice – TSN’s Bob McKenzie broke the news that Dennis Wideman was in the hospital with hematoma, and Knuble painted a rather vivid picture of the ordeal.“He’s been firing off some pictures too, and they’re pretty graphic,” Knuble said. “It’s pretty grotesque…I think he’s pretty much high all the time to deal with the pain.” (Can we give Knuble quote of the year for this?) Knuble also said that apparently Matt Hendricks had the same injury during the lockout.With Wideman and Erskine both out, and Mike Green still out, the Caps spent Thursday’s game rotating among 5 defensemen. Jill Sorensen asked Knuble how that changed the forwards’ thinking on what they needed to do to help out. Knuble said everyone will have to carry more of the load and be better on the boards getting pucks out.It’s also a gap that could be helped by strong puck-handling from your goalie and can help prevent further injuries, according to Braden Holtby (from an interview earlier this year): “If you can play the puck effectively, it helps your d-men out, and it helps [prevent] injuries, especially ’cause they’re not getting hit in the corner as much.”
- However you want to slice and dice Thursday’s game, the end result was three very disjointed periods, with the one thing remaining consistent throughout was Columbus goalie Steve Mason’s trouble with rebounds. That ended up being his undoing most noticeably on a nifty goal by Knuble and the overtime goal by Chimera. The first period saw only one goal by the Capitals, before the teams combined to score four goals in the second period, making it 3-2. Three of the goals came in under a minute. Columbus tied it late in the third. Boudreau said Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth was fairly blameless on any of the three goals against. “More importantly, for Michal, when the game’s on the line, he’s there,” Boudreau said.