Matt Bradley and Matt Hendricks will both tell you they aren't the most gifted players in the Washington Capitals dressing room. That's not to say they aren't capable of chipping with a goal now and then, but the two have combined for 71 goals over 13 NHL seasons, so it's not their offense that's keeping them in the league.
Rather, it's their intensity, their emotion, their willingness to stick their nose into a scrap to bring what hockey's lexicon calls "energy." Basically, it boils down to a simple idea that when the team needs someone to mix it up, be an agitator or get physically involved in order to inspire their teammates, one -- or both -- will step up, as they did Friday night, setting the tone for a 5-2 win over the division leading Tampa Bay Lightning.
Neither are what you would call an NHL "Heavyweight", someone who dresses with the sole intent on fighting another team's top fighter. That role on this team is filled by D.J. King, who has dressed for just 12 games and gotten in four fights. Realistically, with today's rules that position is slowly getting phased out.
But the need still exists on occasion for someone to drop 'em, and it's a role that Bradley has filled for several seasons. Hendricks, in just his second full season at the age of 29, has adjusted his game a bit and realized that he needed to add more of that element to his game in order to make sure he sticks around with the big club.
In the first period of Friday's game, maybe the pivotal play of the entire evening was Hendricks crashing the crease of Tampa goalie Dwayne Roloson and perhaps, throwing the veteran off his game a bit. It wasn't a deliberate "running", where a skater tries to take out the goalie, but Hendricks made enough contact that Roloson took exception, and punched Hendricks several times with his blocker pad, earning both men penalties.
So Matt, did you make contact with Roloson on purpose to get things started?
"Part of my game is obviously going to the net hard," Hendricks said Saturday after a spirited Caps practice. "But we've got good coaches around here and good scouting reports and they've watched [Roloson] in his last few games and he does retaliate. If you get in his crease, if you make contact with him he's not a happy camper. So I knew if I got to the net -- I wasn't trying to end up on top of him -- just trying to make him a little upset. It is what it is. I think I got in his head a bit and I think it helped our team."
But you had to know if you mess with another team's goalie you'd have to answer the bell, right?
"It's all part of the game. It's the code, right? Isn't that what they call it?" Hendricks replied. Sure enough, on Hendricks' next shift Tampa's resident agitator Steve Downie took up the cause to stand up for his goalie.
But to Hendricks, it was definitely worth the effort.
"I thought we needed a little boost of energy and a little bit to get the guys going and get in [Roloson's] head a little bit. He'd shut us out the last two times. Just tried to get him to lose a little bit of focus and I think going to him hard all night -- everybody -- really, really helped, especially on Ovi's power play goal with Knuble up front working hard, him and [Tampa D Victor] Hedman kinda scrapping a little bit in the crease. Just getting him off his game."
Bradley, recently returning from a broken finger, fought with Tampa's tough guy Adam Hall later in the period. Was he concerned about re-injuring the finger in a fight so soon upon return? "You have to test it sometime. Better sooner than later. It feels great."
Coach Bruce Boudreau spoke a bit about the energy Hendricks and Bradley brought to the team. "I thought it was important that they did what they did. I think it showed Tampa that we weren't there just to go through the motions like we did the previous game that we lost 3-0. So it got everybody up on the bench."
"You know, there's a time and a place for a good scrap and I thought those two were right on."
There are guys on the team that while they might be willing, just aren't equipped to play that sort of game -- center Mathieu Perreault being one of them. He spoke about the necessity of having players to mix it up on the team.
"That's what we need from these guys. We want them to bring energy and and stand up for their teammates and this is what they've done. Even Mike Knuble on the Ovechkin goal on the power play he's right in there in Roloson's kitchen all power play and then [Roloson] got rattled and then Ovi scored so this is what we've got to keep doing more."
Neither Hendricks or Bradley picked up a point in the 5-2 win, but their efforts went a long way in providing spark and opening up ice space for the skilled players to do what they do.
It's a tough job, night in and night out willing to get punched in the face for the sake of "energy." But it's a vital role being a player that can contribute both with their hockey sticks and with their fists when need be.