- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2013

Matt Hendricks understands his role with the Washington Capitals sometimes involves dropping the gloves. But coach Adam Oates values Hendricks on the penalty kill and in other situations.

“I know Adam doesn’t want me fighting,” Hendricks said. “We’ve talked about that numerous times.”

But Hendricks had six fighting majors through the Caps’ first 27 games, more than the rest of his teammates combined. He fought twice in a 4-1 loss Saturday at the Boston Bruins in a game that underscored how much this team needs Hendricks to answer the bell when opponents take liberties.

“Not a lot of guys have that job, not a lot of guys want to do that job,” right wing Joey Crabb said. “Good job on him for stepping up. Two fights, one game, and he had to fight a couple tough guys, so it’s a tough job.”

As Hendricks squeezed his bleeding right hand Sunday morning in the wake of his bout against Adam McQuaid less than 24 hours earlier, he said it was fine, just sore.

“It kind of goes with the territory,” Hendricks said.

Hockey fans who weren’t familiar with Hendricks before HBO’s “24/7” documentary series in 2010 found out what he was about when they saw his bruised and bloodied right eye, the result of a sucker punch from Sean Avery.

Hendricks had 42 career NHL fights going into Sunday night’s game against the Buffalo Sabres.

Nos. 41 and 42 came Saturday at TD Garden, against Nathan Horton and then McQuaid, but Hendricks’ afternoon was full of drama to lead up to those.

“Horton and I seemed to be bumping into each other after every whistle,” Hendricks said. “I don’t know if it was intended by him or intending as part of their game plan, but it seemed to happen and that’s part of hockey. That’s part of playing the Boston Bruins in Boston. It’s the way they play, and you’ve got to know that it’s coming.”

Hendricks fought Horton eight seconds after Boston instigator Brad Marchand goaded Mike Ribeiro into his first NHL fight. But Hendricks also knew retribution would be coming after fighting Horton, who isn’t just a skill player but has a concussion history.

It didn’t even matter that Horton asked to fight.

“I ended up getting the better of him in the fight and that’s the price you have to pay in a 4-1 game against them at home,” Hendricks said.

But the Caps were livid at how the Bruins sought that price, as Shawn Thornton and McQuaid challenged Hendricks to get him to fight again.

“That’s the biggest joke I’ve ever seen, in my opinion,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “The fact that [officials] let those guys corner a guy like that. For all they know Hendy had a broken hand and he can’t fight.”

Hendricks knows the drill, though. Thornton is a heavyweight fighter and Hendricks is more of a middleweight, but he knew it was up to him to respond.

“I felt, ‘OK, this is what I’ve got to do at this point in the game,’ ” Hendricks said. “They wanted me to answer the bell for fighting their top-line guy, and I think they know that he asked me to go. But against them, that’s what you’ve got to do in those situations.”

Hendricks only had one more shift the rest of the game, but the Bruins wanted more blood.

“You’ve got a guy like Thornton trying to get you to go at the end of the game. You kind of surround him like a pack of wolves a little bit,” center Jay Beagle said. “That’s a tough role. He handled it really well.”

Hendricks handled it because he’s used to it. The 31-year-old climbed the ranks in the sport with his fists, and had to once be told by Colorado Avalanche teammate and friend Cody McLeod that he didn’t need to fight so much.

Oates agrees with that notion, but Hendricks isn’t afraid to dig back into his fighting past every once in a while when the situation calls for it.

“He’s got a lot of heart and plays really hard,” Beagle said. “He’s obviously a great team guy, everyone knows that, and a great guy to have in your locker room. He steps up every night.”

Sometimes stepping up isn’t at all about fighting, killing penalties or winning faceoffs. Hendricks, an unrestricted free agent this summer, has shown his versatility in filling in on the first line and scoring goals.

Hendricks already has as many goals as he recorded all of last season (four) and relishes the opportunity to get first-line minutes.

“It’s not hard. It’s fun to play more,” he said. “I think Adam puts me out there in certain situations when he’s hoping for a spark. … It’s just about trying to get opportunities, and when your number is called you’ve got to go.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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