Like it or not, Thursday night's fight between Arron Asham and Jay Beagle and the subsequent aftermath was the talk of not only hockey but the sports world in general.
Fighting and injuries from them have been in the spotlight for months, so the scene of the Penguins tough guy making taunting gestures to a roaring Consol Energy crowd while the Capitals forward lay bloodied up on the ice was surreal.
Caps players were unhappy — a few about a veteran fighter taking on someone not known for it, but mostly because Asham made "it's over" and sleeping gestures. Asham apologized after the game, and while conversation continued Friday, many involved explained they were ready to move on.
"It was obviously the wrong thing to do, but he made good," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I think his apology was really sincere, and it wasn't like it took two weeks for him to apologize — it was right after the game. As far as I'm concerned, it's over."
Beagle suffered what Boudreau called a "fat lip" from the fight, though it appeared he was knocked out by two straight rights from Asham. Beagle did not practice Friday, and it's uncertain when he will return.
Teammates continued to laud him for answering the bell, even if some believed there shouldn't have been a fight to begin with. Asham approached Beagle after a shoving match with Pittsburgh star Kris Letang that included a delayed penalty on the Caps.
"The play happens and Beagle's getting a penalty and it wasn't like he went and sucker-punched somebody that there had to be a fight for it," Brooks Laich said.
No instigator penalty was called on the play, but most of the discussion after the game centered on Asham's post-fight antics.
Matt Hendricks, Washington's fighting-majors leader last season, commended Asham for immediately acknowledging his actions.
"What Asham did after the fight was uncalled for and classless," Hendricks said. "But at the same time I give him credit for apologizing and realizing what he did was wrong."
Debate raged Friday about whether the NHL should punish Asham. But league spokesman John Dellapina said in an email that no discipline is coming, because while "nobody liked the gestures," they were not "obscene, profane or abusive."
Generally, the Caps were OK with no punishment for Asham, as players said the gestures didn't warrant anything.
"Gestures happen all the time after fights," Hendricks said. "Something like this where it was a guy that was really hurt after. So now we're making a big deal about it."
Following the Caps' 3-2 overtime victory, captain Alex Ovechkin called Asham — he of the 83 career regular-season fights — "disrespectful" for going after Beagle, who had none in his NHL career before Thursday. Asham responded Friday in conversations with reporters in Pittsburgh.
"I don't know what Ovi's talking about, disrespectful," he said, as quoted by the Tribune-Review. "A guy who throws his stick down and warms his hand over it. He is being a hypocrite himself. The rivalry is back. I'm sure the next game is going to have a lot of fireworks."
The Penguins visit Verizon Center on Dec. 1.
Ovechkin said he and Asham exchanged words but preferred to keep that conversation "just between me and him." Asham said he reached out to former teammate Mike Knuble to check up on Beagle and apologize.
"I talked with Mike Knuble last night and made sure the kid was alright," Asham said. "I told him I apologized for the stupid antics I did after. He knows what kind of guy I am."
Knuble praised Asham pretty effusively after the game, calling him a "real honest player." It seemed he earned the respect of many Caps players through his remorse. And now the Penguins tough guy hopes to move past this.
"I'm sorry about what happened. It's part of the game," he said. "I know it was wrong, what I did. It's over and done with."
But the Caps-Penguins rivalry is just getting heated up again.
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