Finding someone to fight in the course of 60 minutes turned into a long-term project for Capitals Matt Hendricks and Steve Oleksy Tuesday.
Down 3-0 in the third, Oleksy finally managed to locate a Carolina Hurricane willing to drop the gloves—not through any lack of courage on the ‘Canes part, but because smart hockey dictates you don’t give a team down only a few goals any momentum.
Hendricks said postgame he and Oleksy had been trying to engage Carolina’ Tim Wallace in the second when the Capitals were down 2-0, but Wallace smartly kept his cool.
“[Oleksy] and I were both asking Wallace at the same time earlier in the second,” Hendricks said. “And Wallace was smart about it. It was 2-nothing, he chose no.”
It was Drayson Bowman who Oleksy finally managed to engage.
“I just gave him a little tap on the back of the legs there, and asked if he wanted to have one,” Oleksy recounted, adding he was seeking a momentum shift that would help Washington.
“I give Steve credit for finding somebody that was willing to [fight] … with him tonight, because it was a good spark. Building got loud, and we came out and played,” Hendricks also said.
For the past three seasons, whenever the Capitals needed hockey’s universal wake-up call of dropping the gloves, it was often Hendricks who set the alarm. On Tuesday, he got some help from the rookie, who’s managed his first NHL game, first NHL goal, and first NHL fight all in one week.
“I’d been kind of looking for that first one, to get that one out of the way, and I thought it was the perfect time to do that,” said Oleksy of Tuesday’s fight.
In the Capitals’ locker room after the game, meanwhile, Karl Alzner was back to his likely undesirable, yet much appreciated, role—fielding media questions about why the Capitals are losing. Again.
At season’s start, it was a lack of energy. Then it seemed to be adjusting to the system. Those learning curves in the rearview mirror, the Capitals put together a string of points that peaked with an overtime-comeback win against Boston and a 7-1 outing against Florida.
Then came offensive famine: only three goals scored over the weekend, and zero Tuesday against Carolina, while the Hurricanes racked up 4 at the expense of Braden Holtby’s goals against average.
So what is it this time?
The chances were there Tuesday, according to the guys, but Alzner said overall the Capitals are now trying to take shortcuts in their style of play.
“The beginning [of the season], we talked about what our problems were. There was games where we didn’t have enough emotion, and there’s games where we weren’t playing smart enough,” Alzner said. “And now, it’s we know how to play the system, we know what we’re supposed to do, we know how hard it is, and sometimes we take shortcuts to get around it, and when you do take those shortcuts, you can see the big difference—it’s huge, so it’s just—it’s little things, and all of us [have] got to remember that we’re not always going to make an impact every single shift on the score sheet, or something like that. It’s little ones, that chip away.”