The Caps got a necessary reminder of who they're up against and...
Fight of the Bumblebee
The worst kept secret of the Montreal game on Wednesday was that the Capitals were going to take advantage of Rene Bourque’s recent acquisition by the Montreal Canadiens and make him “atone” for his crimes against Nick Backstrom when Bourque played for Calgary back in early January. How this would somehow fix Backstrom’s concussion and bring him back to the lineup quicker, or make up for the lack of response to Bourque’s thuggery at the time, I have no idea. Maybe it would just make him feel better, which would be totally worth it since Nick Backstrom is awesome.
Anywho, it fell to Matt Hendricks to become the sacrificial lamb to bring the wood to Rene Bourque (who couldn’t be bothered to remove his visor), just 1:15 into the first.
Well, that went well.
Bourque is 6-2 and weighs in at 213, and Hendricks is a bit shorter at 6 even. You can also see that Bourque has a pretty significant reach advantage, as he’s able to just keep Hendricks at bay with his arms in order to avoid his fists and throw out some pummelage while pretty much being unmolested. 26 is able to get in a few shots early (and just misses on a punch that would have ended the whole thing early), but Bourque’s superior height and athletic advantage end up wearing Hendy out pretty quickly, to the point where he almost gets DDT’d for his trouble.
Even though this was the most talked about incident pre and post game, I don’t think it was the most significant physical confrontation that occurred that night. To me, it was late in the third when the Habs’ Mathieu Darche decided to fling Matt Hendricks like a mace in to Michal Neuvirth, and again, there was a pretty tepid response from the Caps. There was some stick swatting and some words and a few shoves, but that was it. You can make a good argument (although I don’t buy it) that Buffalo’s season has been completely ruined when the Bruins’ Milan Lucic decided to truck Ryan Miller, Mutant League Hockey-style, and no one on the Sabres bothered to bring Lucic to task for his, um, “passion”, and the Caps didn’t do much in this situation to help out Neuvirth, who looked a bit shaky as he returned to play.
Here’s the thing about “toughness” (and no, DJ King playing three minutes a game and looking mean from the bench would not have prevented this, let’s get that out of the way now). The Caps don’t need to go around looking for fights, but they do need to stand up for themselves when challenged. To paraphrase Karl Malden’s character in “On the Waterfront”, when someone tosses Matt Hendricks into Michal Neuvirth, that’s a challenge. When someone tries to take out Matt Hendricks’ and Marcus Johansson’s knees, that’s a challenge. When Jeff Skinner slewfoots Dennis Wideman into the boards, that’s a challenge. The Caps cannot hope to compete with the Bostons and New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers of the world if they keep allowing opponents to take advantage of them physically without a response that involves more than tongue-wagging and shoves. This team will not become a “team” until that happens on a consistent basis.