Puck Daddy - NHL

After Mike Green(notes) was run by noted scholar David Koci(notes) last month, there were several stories written about the Washington Capitals' need for an enforcer on their roster to protect their star assets.

Alex Ovechkin(notes) is a star asset. Matt Bradley(notes) is the closest thing the team has to an enforcer up front. Last night, in the Capitals' 7-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Bradley covered Ovechkin's asset by racing from the bench and stepping in to fight Steve Downie(notes) after Ovie had dropped the gloves. Cue Whitney Houston's cover of "I Will Always Love You," and watch:

(At this juncture, we must commend and recommend Dan Steinberg's frame-by-frame breakdown of the incident that includes internal dialogue from the players and tales of high-school sexual repression.)

Ovechkin and Downie were leaving the box following matching roughing penalties, a result from Ovechkin's controversial hit on Downie that former Caps captain Jeff Halpern called a knee-on-knee attempt. Luckily, Ovechkin doesn't have the reputation for that sort of ... oh, right.

Bradley earned 27 penalty minutes for the fight, including a 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct for leaving the bench for a brawl, which replays show should be a penalty that's rescinded by the NHL because it was a clean change.

The optics aren't good here for Ovechkin: He's a player that dishes it out, and it's Bradley who took it. But as Chad Feldheimer told Osbourne Cox in "Burn After Reading": "Appearances can be... deceptive."

Predictably, this Ovechkin non-fight inspired a response from the Sidney Crosby(notes) side of the aisle, as Puck Buddy JB was among the Pittsburgh Penguins fans who hit our inbox last night:

Did you see Matt Bradley run in to prevent Ovechkin from fighting Steven Downie during tonight's game with TB?  I just thought I'd share that in the event you are inundated with "Crosby is gay/[expletive]/a baby/etc..." emails this week. Pretty sure no one has ever done that for Sid.

Not only that, but Crosby's been the enforcer himself before.

But whether Sidney has or hasn't been protected by another player is about as besides-the-point as comparing Crosby's fight history to Ovechkin's -- neither of them should be looking to drop the mitts, and especially in a 7-4 game in the third period against someone like Steve Downie.

Yet Ovechkin dropped the gloves and was ready to rumble before Bradley speed-skated in for the save. Hell, he even flipped his lid, which is more than we can say for Bradley.

From the No. 1 hockey blog on the Web according to Sports Media Challenge, Japers' Rink writer David M. Getz had this take:

Downie's a clown, and there's no way he should have walked away from the initial altercation with the same penalty as Ovechkin - punching a guy for laying a clean hit on you shouldn't be an effective way to eliminate him from the game.  By the same token, how Ovechkin gets a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct and Downie doesn't when they both drop 'em is beyond me.  Love the passion from Ovechkin, but tomorrow morning he'll realize it's best Bradley stepped in because fighting's a risk Ovie shouldn't be taking.  Bradley earned himself player of the game status.  And the hardhat for life...or the rest of the season at least.

The "clean hit" part is up for debate, but the point here is taken and reinforced by the Capitals in postgame statements to Capitals Insider:

When Ovechkin and Downie came out of the box, they quickly found each other and squared off again. It was the last thing Boudreau or the rest of the Caps wanted to see.

"The last thing you want to see is Alex fighting," Brian Pothier(notes) said. "I think Brads did a real heroic thing [by] stepping in. It's not that Ovie can't handle himself . We all know he's one of the strongest guys in the league, but we don't need him to be [fighting]."

Boudreau added: "You knew Matt would step in. The last thing we want is Alex fighting."

Again, you can argue that Ovechkin needed to answer for his hit -- and he was ready to. But the Capitals didn't want him to, Bradley did his job and fans are left waiting to see Ovie's first NHL fight since 2006.

The teams meet again on Jan. 30. Bradley's already doing wind sprints in preparation.

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