The Ovechkin-Downie-Bradley Incident
I was planning on doing a report of the Caps two-game trip to Florida, but ended up talking for a long time about this incident, so I’ll figured I’d get right to it.
Just to outline what happened, with about 7 minutes remaining in the third period and the Caps already down 7-4, a frustrated Ovechkin felt he was slashed by Downie, but no call came, so after getting a new stick from the Washington bench, Ovie came down the ice headed straight for Downie and threw a big hit on him. The Lightning forward took exception to this and gave the Ovechkin a couple of punches before the linesmen came between the two, and both got two for roughing. Two minutes later, the pair leave the penalty box and Downie gives Ovechkin a bit of a hook. Ovechkin then decided enough was enough and threw his gloves and stick aside, took off his helmet and readied himself for battle. Of course, Downie was a willing combatant, but he was distracted by Matt Bradley coming storming down the ice and flying in to take the fight. It was a pretty even fight, and Downie continued to chirp at Ovechkin on his way to the penalty box. Bradley got two minutes for instigating, five for fighting and a ten minute misconduct, Downie got two for hooking, five for fighting and a ten minute misconduct, and Ovechkin got two for unsportsmanlike.
Since the incident, a lot of people - players, staff and fans - have praised Bradley for stepping in for Ovechkin. I am not one of these people. I have always firmly been of the opinion that a captain should be willing to drop the gloves to protect, or in this case encourage, his teammates. Clearly, Ovechkin was more than willing; the problem was Bradley got in the way. I saw a few quotes saying along the lines of ‘we don’t want Alex fighting’. My issue with this is that he is captain and clearly wants to fight. It’s a sad state of affairs in my opinion, when a player is jumping in to a fight in place of his captain. Ovechkin was justified in fighting because the Caps needed something to spark them into action. And for those who say ‘the team would need Ovechkin on the ice to stand any chance of getting three goals’; the two scenarios were – Ovechkin fights, meaning we are even-strength for five minutes, but without Ovie, OR, Bradley steps in for Ovechkin, and we are shorthanded for two minutes and even-strength for three with Ovechkin. The second (the true course of events) leaves the Caps with five minutes to score three goals (with only two shorties all season it is doubtful they will get one when down a man). Even without Ovechkin, the team has plenty of firepower to have a chance of getting back into the game, especially if spurred on by Ovechkin’s first proper fight in the NHL - the Russian superstar has only been assessed one fighting major since entering the league, after a scrap with Paul Gaustad in 2007, in which Ovechkin didn’t even get his gloves off, but was pelted with punches by Gaustad.
I am very pleased that the Caps are stepping up the rough stuff – three fights in two games this week after none since mid-december, but now that he is captain, Ovechkin should be allowed to get in scraps to spark a reaction, and not always kept in the shadows by the likes of Matt Bradley. I have long been calling for a proper enforcer to be brought into the team to protect the better players like Ovechkin, but if he is willing, Ovie should be permitted to protect himself. Judging by this debacle, it certainly looks like he wants it, and he knows what he is doing.