Fight Breaks Out, and Caps Lose

Olie Kolzig blocks the shot of the Thrashers Marian Hossa. Kolzig had 28 saves in the game.
Olie Kolzig blocks the shot of the Thrashers Marian Hossa. Kolzig had 28 saves in the game. (Joe Giza - Reuters)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 23, 2006

Anger and frustration had been building all game for the struggling Washington Capitals. And with about a minute remaining in their 4-2 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers last night, those simmering feelings spilled onto the ice at Verizon Center.

A combined 10 fighting majors were handed out between the Southeast Division rivals, who totaled 176 minutes in penalties. The game ended with the penalty boxes overflowing and only a handful of players left on the benches.

The NHL is expected to make a final determination on possible suspensions and fines today.

Both coaches -- Washington's Glen Hanlon and Atlanta's Bob Hartley -- are likely facing thousands of dollars in fines, and at least one player from each team -- probably Donald Brashear of the Capitals and Thrashers captain Scott Mellanby -- will be suspended for one game.

Brashear and Mellanby each received penalties for instigating, fighting major and a game misconduct. Capitals veteran Brian Sutherby also received instigating and fighting penalties, as well as a game misconduct, opening the possibility of a suspension for him.

"It was a 4-2 hockey game and someone, a 21-year-old kid with a cut mouth, gets his head knocked off with a high hit and one of their players is grabbing our captain, grabbing his cage and shaking it," Hanlon said. "What the heck are they supposed to do?"

Hanlon was referring to an attempted hit by Atlanta defenseman Andy Sutton, who lined up but missed Capitals rookie Mike Green in front of the Atlanta bench with about 2 1/2 minutes remaining.

Frustrated by blowing a 2-0 second-period lead, the Capitals apparently decided enough was enough.

The animosity continued in the hallway between the teams' locker rooms afterward, with Hanlon reportedly screaming at Hartley. In the game's waning seconds, Hanlon, on the Capitals' bench, gestured toward Hartley, flapping his arms like a chicken. Hartley responded by mouthing the words, "Next time."

Four more games remain in the season series; the teams will meet in Atlanta on Dec. 15.

"It was a frustrating game. We didn't like the way things were going and some things happened and things boiled over," said Capitals winger Ben Clymer, who came to Green's defense after Sutton's attempted cheap shot. "We weren't happy with how things were going with us and that's what happens."

Atlanta scored four consecutive goals, the clincher coming from Kovalchuk at 13 minutes 53 seconds of the third period, snaping the Thrashers' four-game losing streak.

The fisticuffs began with 1:02 remaining, when three separate fights broke out, highlighted by Brashear pounding Atlanta defenseman Vitaly Vishnevski, who was left bleeding from the top of his head. Even the goaltenders Olie Kolzig (28 saves) and Johan Hedberg (24) were penalized for leaving the crease, though neither threw any punches.

After a sloppy start, the Capitals settled down behind Kolzig's steady play and eventually grabbed a 1-0 lead on Matt Pettinger's power-play goal at 10:01 of the first period.

Jakub Klepis set up the play with a splendid backhanded pass to Pettinger in the slot. Pettinger then beat Hedberg under the blocker for his fourth goal in six games.

Klepis wasn't done. He parlayed a misplayed puck by Hedberg into a 2-0 lead at 5:03 of the second period.

But moments later, a goal by the unlikeliest of players -- Thrashers defenseman Shane Hnidy -- got the Thrashers back into it, 2-1. Hnidy launched a long shot from the boards past a moving Kolzig at 6:15.

Bobby Holik scored a power-play goal at 12:05 to tie the score at 2.

Then things got weird.

Fifty-six seconds later, Glen Metropolit, a former Capital, fired what looked like a harmless shot over Kolzig. But the puck hit the glass and bounced back over the goal, right to Metropolit, who whacked it out of midair and into the goal for a 3-2 Thrashers' lead.

Kovalchuk completed the scoring when he picked off a poor pass by Klepis, skated in alone on Kolzig and beat the Capitals' netminder with a low snap shot.

Then things got crazy.

Even mild-mannered Capitals defenseman Jamie Heward fought in the final seconds, tangling -- and holding his own -- with Mellanby.

"I don't think there was any need for this," Hartley said. "We were all warned at the beginning of the season that any activities when the season was over with, the league will look into it."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company