Diplomacy is becoming a foreign concept in Washington, D.C., this NHL season, as the Capitals are compiling a high number of fighting majors.
The Capitals have already been in more fights this season (21 during 34 games) than they were during the entire 2009-10 regular season (20). At that pace, they'll have 51 fights, which would be the most since the 2002-03 regular season, when they totaled 52, according to statistics at hockeyfights.com.
Head coach Adam Oates as a player was a frequent finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy, given for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct. He hasn't changed his stripes as a coach. In fact, after a 4-0 loss to Pittsburgh, Oates said it would have been pointless to go start fights late during the game.
"We're not the type of team that's going to go out and all of a sudden, you know, three guys start a fight," Oates said. "That's not who we are. Rough it up? No. You've got to play. That's not who we are."
Two factors contribute to the pugilistic uptick: Tom Wilson and the Philadelphia Flyers.
Wilson, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound rookie, throws body checks and fists. He has fought seven times, most recently Dec. 17 against Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossman after Wilson hit Philadelphia forward Brayden Schenn. Wilson was given a game misconduct.
Matt Hendricks had seven of Washington's 16 fights during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, according to hockeyfights.com. The 2011-12 Caps had 26 fighting majors, and the 2010-11 team had 45, the website's stats showed. Alan May fought 31 times during the 1989-90 campaign, during which he compiled 339 penalty minutes, a Capitals franchise record.
The Capitals drafted Wilson during the first round (16th overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft. A 19-year old who could be a top six forward in the future, Wilson earns limited minutes on the fourth line with Aaron Volpatti. Volpatti's four fights are second-most on the Caps.
Wilson's hit on Schenn was a turning point during the game, which the Flyers won, 5-2. The game was tied, 2-2, during the second period, and Wilson was assessed a five-minute major for charging. The Flyers scored twice on that power play. The hit was expected to be reviewed for possible further discipline. Oates said it should not have been a penalty at all, because Wilson hit Schenn shoulder-to-shoulder.
Wilson doesn't seem to cruise the ice looking for fights. The fisticuffs typically come to him, such as when Grossman grabbed him after the Schenn hit.
Perhaps the biggest factor in the Capitals' increased fighting has been the Flyers. The teams have played three times. Nine of Washington's 21 fighting majors have come against Philadelphia.
On Nov. 1, when the Capitals embarrassed the Flyers, 7-0, in Philadelphia, the Flyers did what Oates said his team didn't do -- they gooned it up.
Philadelphia forward Wayne Simmonds went crashing into anyone he could find, at one point hitting Wilson and dropping the gloves. Flyers goalie Ray Emery jumped Caps netminder Braden Holtby. Schenn started a fight with Washington defenseman Alexander Urbom, and Philadelphia center Vincent Lecavalier fought Caps defenseman Steve Oleksy.
Earlier during that game, Volpatti fought Flyers forward Steve Downie, who sustained a concussion. Downie spent two nights in the hospital.
During the Caps' 5-4 shootout victory against the Flyers Dec. 15, Oleksy and Simmonds squared off. And Michael Latta, another tough Capitals rookie, bloodied the nose of Flyers agitator Zac Rinaldo.
On Dec. 17, Volpatti traded blows with Philadelphia winger Adam Hall. Volpatti didn't return after the fight.
Caps defenseman John Erskine appeared to invite Simmonds for another go-round during the closing seconds of the game, but Simmonds declined.
Erskine, who recently returned to the lineup after a leg injury, is a skilled pugilist. He's 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. His last two fights were against heavyweights Shawn Thornton and George Parros.
After three head-to-head games, the Flyers have 137 penalty minutes, compared with 118 for the Capitals.
The Flyers lead the NHL in total penalty minutes (611) and the Capitals have the third most (490), through Dec. 17.
The teams won't meet again until early March.
The Capitals likely won't need to use their fists much during their upcoming games. They play at the Carolina Hurricanes Dec. 20 and host the New Jersey Devils Dec. 21. The Devils have the fewest total penalty minutes (259) and the Hurricanes the third fewest (301), through Dec. 17.