Matt Hendricks returns, but early fight with Cody McLeod doesn’t spark Capitals

DENVER — Matt Hendricks tried to make the most of his return to Colorado and return to the Washington Capitals lineup. The gritty forward who began his NHL career with the Avalanche missed four straight games with a knee injury before getting back on the ice Saturday night.

Hendricks didn’t play long — just 3:49 — but it was a fight with Cody McLeod in which the 30-year-old tried to make a major impact.

The Caps were trailing in the first when Hendricks dropped the gloves with his friend and former teammate and a guy whose advice to fight more helped him get a full-time spot with Washington.

“There’s no friends out there during the game,” Hendricks said. “I was trying to get some momentum for the team.”

This was a legitimate fight — one that looked like two guys who didn’t like each other. But McLeod said the two old buddies hung out Friday night. The fight was just a product of hockey.

“He hit me once there and I kind of asked him to go off the draw, but he kind of declined. We drew that penalty and he was yelling at me,” McLeod said. “When you get hit in the face a couple times, you kind of get mad and start swinging back, right? Part of the job. Try to get some energy in the building. I thought we picked up our game after it, so it was good.”

Caps coach Dale Hunter credited Hendricks for attempting to do something with Washington down 1-0 after a soft goal early on.

“He’s a team guy; he’ll do anything for the team,” Hunter said. “And he wanted to give us a spark.”

Hendricks didn’t get a shift in the third period, likely a product of Mathieu Perreault leaving with an illness and Hunter shortening the bench. But Hendricks admitted he felt good in his first game back despite some mental hurdles.

“I was thinking a little bit more than I’d like to instead of just going and reacting,” he said. “I was thinking the game. But it’ll come. I’ll be ready to go next game.”

And after all the punches he took to the face, the end result was still as 2-1 Caps loss.

“It didn’t work tonight,” Hendricks said.

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