Tanner Glass gives -- and takes -- in his scrum with Arron Asham Sunday night in New York.
By Ron Cook Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In no particular order, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby gushed about the team's 2-0 start, its terrific wins during the weekend at Philadelphia and at New York against the Rangers and teammates Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Tomas Vokoun.
But Crosby might have done his best gushing about Tanner Glass, the new muscle on his hockey club.
"That was a great fight for both guys," Crosby said of Glass' bout with the Rangers' Arron Asham at the start of the 6-3 win Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. "It got us fired up."
In many ways, the fight was ridiculous. Glass and Asham lined up opposite each other for the opening faceoff, immediately dropped their stick and gloves and wailed away for nearly a minute. There was no sense to it. Nothing provoked it. There was no real carryover from last season, although Glass, then with Winnipeg, and Asham, then with the Penguins, did fight in Winnipeg in December 2011.
The Garden fans loved it. They stood as one and roared. It would have been hard convincing them the fight was ridiculous. At that point, it would have been hard to argue that the NHL hurts its popularity by allowing fighting.
Don't try telling Crosby and the other Penguins that the fight served no purpose. He and they believe fighting has a place in their game. Go back to the first round of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs. Game 6 against the Flyers in Philadelphia. The Penguins trailed, 3-0, in the second period when Max Talbot took on the Flyers' Daniel Carcillo. Talbot took a beating but still managed to get up and shush the Flyers crowd by holding his index finger to his lips. Ruslan Fedotenko scored 14 seconds later for the Penguins. The comeback was on.
To this day, Crosby and the Penguins will tell you that Talbot's grit and that fight inspired them to a 5-3 win, which eliminated the Flyers. They went on to win the Cup later that spring.
No one was ready to predict another Cup after the Glass-Asham fight. But Neal did score a power-play goal at 1:48 of the first period to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead and mostly silence that bloodthirsty Garden crowd.
"Obviously, we wanted to follow that [fight] up," Crosby said. "Getting that first one was a big help."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma insisted he played no role in the fight, even though he started Glass, usually a fourth-liner, on a line with the ultra-talented Malkin and Neal. He mentioned that Glass got a few shifts with Malkin and Neal in the 3-1 win Saturday in Philadelphia. He also said he wanted his team to establish a "physical presence" early against the Rangers.
But Bylsma had to know how Rangers coach John Tortorella would react when Tortorella saw Glass in the starting lineup. The Rangers are a big team, and Tortorella apparently believes it can intimidate opponents. Fights off the opening faceoff aren't unusual for him or his team. In March, the Rangers played the New Jersey Devils and the three forwards in the starting lineup for each team dropped their gloves and a brawl broke out.
This time, Tortorella sent out Asham, who joined the Rangers in the offseason as a free agent and was playing in his first game with them. He had to sit out their opener Saturday night against the Boston Bruins to serve the final game of a four-game suspension he received last spring for mugging the Flyers' Brayden Schenn in Game 3 of the Flyers-Penguins first-round playoff series.
Asham was the perfect guy for Tortorella to send out to deliver the message that the Rangers are high on the list of Cup favorites and opponents had better not mess with them in the Garden.
As it turned out, Glass, who was signed in the offseason as a free agent by the Penguins to replace Asham, was the perfect guy to deliver a message of his own on behalf of his new team.
"So what if you're the Rangers? So what if we're in your building? We're Cup contenders, too, and we're not going to be bullied."
Glass was so impressed with his work that he retweeted video of the fight soon after the game.
Bylsma also liked what he saw from Glass.
"He set the tone for our team. Our guys were real pumped up about it and we came out in that period and did set the tone."
The Penguins led, 3-1, after the first period.
It's no wonder Crosby and the other players were thrilled with Glass' willingness to give it all up for his new team.
"Absolutely. Without a question," Bylsma said. "To do it early on in the season, to step up and do that, absolutely it scores points with his teammates and for our team."
It's funny, Asham also made a good first impression on Tortorella, his new teammates and Rangers fans. If the Rangers had won the game, everyone in New York would have credited Asham with providing the energy.
But you know how that turned out.
"Ash goes in there, hangs in there and we don't come in there behind him," an angry Tortorella told the New York media after the loss.
That's the thing about a hockey fight. You never know which team it will benefit. But this we do know about the fights, for sure: They aren't going away anytime soon.