D.J. King is giving the Capitals a fighting chance

Nicklas Backstrom deflects home Alex Ovechkin's shot from the point to give the Capitals the decisive goal in their third consecutive victory.
By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 14, 2010; 12:00 AM

Left wing D.J. King made his regular season debut for the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night, and in a game that included plenty of roughhousing, the designated enforcer got down to business right away against the New York Islanders.

Just 2 minutes 47 seconds into Washington's 2-1 victory at Verizon Center, King was on the forecheck for his first shift when Islanders left wing Trevor Gillies induced him into dropping gloves. After sizing up one another while skating around the right faceoff circle, they finally converged and began exchanging blows to the delight of the crowd. King managed to deliver several shots to the head but did get knocked down before the confrontation mellowed into the typical clutch-and-grab of many NHL fights, at which point officials stepped in and broke them up.

"Obviously I thought I could have done a little better, that's for sure," King said. "It's going to happen where you're going to get caught with a punch, but it was good to get it out of the way."

Both players received five-minute majors for the incident, which King later said he was quick to join because the Capitals had come out flat in the final game of their three-game homestand. But King's best intentions backfired when Nino Niederreiter gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead less than 30 seconds later, beating Michal Neuvirth between his blockers for his first NHL goal.

That fight was just the beginning of a rough-and-tumble affair in which tensions escalated again in the second period when Islanders goalie Dwayne Roloson went after Capitals center Matt Hendricks. Roloson had made an impressive save against Jason Chimera off a feed from Eric Fehr, and the play appeared over until Hendricks provoked the situation with a late stick-tap. That's when Roloson emerged quickly from his crouch and lunged at Hendricks.

"Just playing my game, going to the net, trying to stir up some extracurriculars," Hendricks said.

Hendricks and King are among just a handful of newcomers to the club this season, added largely because of their willingness to agitate and even cause trouble when appropriate. That bare-knuckle disposition has already endeared both players to their teammates.

After they bowed out unexpectedly in the first round of last season's playoffs, Capitals players could only watch other supposedly less talented teams such as Philadelphia, Boston and Montreal advance because in part they had at least one intimidator who could dictate circumstances around the crease. But the Capitals added King not only because of his rough demeanor. They also envisioned him contributing to some of the less violent facets of the game.

At the time of his signing, General Manager George McPhee described King as falling between two categories of fighters: those who can play a little bit and those who can drop gloves if the situation calls for it. It's no secret, however, that Washington lacked a measure of hostility last season, and King fit the bill.

"Those are the things [King] does, and he's really good at it," Hendricks said. "It boosts the team morale quite a bit."

King made an impact early in the preseason by fighting Boston's Shawn Thornton in a game at Verizon Center. The partisan crowd applauded King for his first scrap in a Capitals uniform, and teammates gave their approval with stick slaps. Following that fight, Boudreau referred to the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Saskatchewan native as a "big brother" on the team and added the Capitals were deficient in that regard last season.

"Every team I've played on that's had it, there's a need for it," Hendricks said of King's fighting moxie. "If you don't have it, you tend to shy away from different plays and being physical, and with him out there, guys really can play their game."

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