Home > NHL, Penguins > Did Aaron Asham Earn the Pens a Point?

Did Aaron Asham Earn the Pens a Point?

I think this is the real question. There is no debate – there never was, really –  about what Asham did after knocking out Jay Beagle last night. It was classless, unsportsmanlike, unmanly. Asham clearly felt remorse moments after, while sitting in the penalty box, and he tipped his cap in the hockey way by tapping his stick against the glass as Beagle wobbled off the ice. Asham never made any attempt to defend his actions. After the game he called himself out as acting like a jerk, said he was too into the moment, and he regretted it. That should be all. (Although I can’t blame him for what he did. Knocking some dudes lights out in front of 18000+ people in the middle of a hockey game would illicit a similar response from anyone.)

(For the record, I jumped out of my barstool and cheered my face off when Asham landed his death blow. At the time I thought everything about what he did was awesome, and so did everyone in the bar I was in. After it happened I saw a couple of guys mimic Asham’s celebration. People in this bar, miles away from the arena where the fight took place, not involved in the game or in the crowd, were so pumped up on adrenaline that we lost our better sense about what we saw and high-fived the moment. How can any of us shame Aaron Asham?)

At the time this fight took place, the Pens had recently surrendered the lead to the Caps on an early third-period goal by Alex Ovechkin. The home fans were deflated. We’d all seen that fish before. The Pens grind the Caps for the majority of the game then let the Caps take over. It’s the way things have gone for the Pens against the Caps at home over the past few years. I think everyone in the building sensed it, including the players. I think Asham – who is by no means an enforcer – decided to take advantage of an opportunity to get his fans and teammates back into the game by picking a fight.

It is 100% Jay Beagle’s fault for agreeing to fight Asham. It was absolutely the wrong place at the wrong time against the wrong guy. It is never, ever advisable to agree to a fight on the road, against a rival, in a one-goal game, against a guy who knows how to fight. Asham made Beagle pay for his mistake.

Immediately after the fight the Pens had a power play opportunity. At this point, Consol Energy Center was going apeshit. This was the big moment when the Pens were going to tie this thing up and start to steamroll the Caps.

But the power play was killed. Still 2-1 Washington.

Now at this point I couldn’t tell what the crowd was like inside the arena. I assume everyone was still amped up after the fight – I know I was, and the bar was still buzzing – but I can’t make a definitive assertion about the atmosphere inside CEC. The Pens were playing hard, though. Flying all over. And with 3:45 left in the third period, James Neal tied the game at 2.

Neal’s goal came over ten minutes after the Asham/Beagle tilt. Hockey purists will tell you that at least partial credit for this goal should go to Asham’s energizing fight. The new-wave hockey analyst will tell you that the fight, regardless of its impact on the game, should have never happened.

I don’t like fighting. Generally. I don’t like boxing. I really can’t stand MMA. As a kid I liked pro wrestling, but only because all my friends were into it. Call me crazy, but I don’t get off on watching people’s lives get destroyed by other people. That said, I can’t figure out where I come out on the hockey fight debate. As much as I was horrified by watching Jay Beagle’s face explode, I loved that Asham did it, and I really think it had a positive impact for the Penguins. I think most hockey fans realize the significance that a fight can have on the outcome of a game. There wasn’t a single player on either bench last night that wasn’t in some way affected by that fight. Good or bad, everybody’s emotions were impacted. This had an undeniable meaning to the game.

But that doesn’t make it right. There was a time, not too long ago, in which hockey players weren’t mandated to wear helmets. Think about that today. It’s insane. But it was a sign of toughness to go out there without a lid, and the worst anybody thought would happen was a ding on the head. Now we know how serious those dings were and the NHL would never allow players to compete sans helmet today. They learned and evolved.

It appears clearer than ever that bare-knuckle blows to the head can have catastrophic impact to a player. Couple that with the image the NHL can’t seem to shake that it is a league of goons and incompetent leaders who can’t govern their own sport efficiently and it starts to become apparent that fighting in the NHL has run its course. I do believe fights have a place in hockey. I do believe fights can change games. And I do believe that Asham’s fight last night brought something out of the Penguins that they had been missing since the first period. They looked worn down and frustrated that they couldn’t solve Vokoun, and there was a feeling that this was just another one of those games where the Penguins skate circles around their opponent and end up with nothing to show for it. After the fight the Pens were clearly invigorated. They battled hard to create chances, draw penalties, and eventually cashed in late in the game, salvaging a point.

Does that make fighting an indispensable part of the fabric of the game, or does the concern for player safety trump all? The debate will rage on.

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