Jay Beagle may not be a familiar name to the casual Capitals fan. The big center from Calgary has taken the familiar, long road to an NHL sweater, grinding through junior hockey, the University of Alaska-Anchorage, the ECHL and AHL, and appeared in brief cameos with the Caps when they needed a body from Hershey. Number 83 will have to fight his teammates (metaphorically) to keep a spot on the dress roster this season. Last night, the Caps 3-2 overtime win in Pittsburgh, Beagle had to (literally) fight to earn his keep. His teammates rallied around him on the ice when he got knocked out by pro pugilist Arron Asham. After the game, some found cause to rally around their fallen comrade off the ice as well.

Morgan Douglas is also not a familiar name to hockey fans. She’s a self described 20 year-old student obsessed with hockey. While Asham backed off his post-K.O. celebration and apologized postgame, Douglas tagged in electronically. Just like he would on the ice, Capitals defenseman John Carlson took exception. Instead of a damp Bauer glove to the face, Douglas appears to have gotten a direct message from Carlson’s twitter account: “Go screw yourself u mutant.”

There’s no need for extra gasoline in the Caps-Pens fire. Every contest of the last three seasons has been rife with implications about the state of hockey hierarchy in the eastern part of the continent. There might be no more well-documented series going in sports right now. With this level of hype, tension, and scrutiny, things are bound to get weird. In the latest chapter of the Capitals-Penguins saga, it appears they’ve taken a very Mean Girls turn.

Morgan Douglas' (@mdouglas830) screen capture of John Carlson's verified Twitter account's (@JohnCarlson74) "mutant" direct message

This edition of the Capitals hasn’t relied on a great deal of agitation toward its opponents. So far, the squad has showed its’ willingness to be physical, but mostly going to set the tempo in the offensive zone versus trying to get inside an opponent’s head. Jay Beagle is not a likely candidate to fill the role of agitator, having never dropped the gloves in an NHL game before. On nights when the Caps need a true enforcer, Beagle will probably hand his fourth-line sweater to D.J. King. Still, Beagle found himself in a situation where his physical play got in the way of Penguins’ defenseman Kris Letang’s face. Challenged by Asham, Beagle answered the bell, knowing full-well his was about to get rung. This is where the line between “heart” and “foolhardy” gets a little blurry. Caps play-by-play announcer Joe Beninati even retroactively pleaded with Beagle not to scrap with Asham, who according to DropYourGloves.com is 43-13-28 in his NHL fighting career. Beagle knew he would probably get beat like a rented mule, and did he ever. Two hard right hands from Asham had him down, gushing blood onto the ice. Good on him for defending himself, but getting hurt means that his ice time, which is already slim, may be zero for the immediate future.

The first two players over to Beagle when he went down in a heap (before the Caps training staff), were Carlson and Beagle’s gluten-free diet buddy Karl Alzner.

Knowing the friendship that exists off ice with these three made it both heartwarming and saddening to see Alzner and Carlson so concerned for their teammate and friend. It’s what you want to see out of teammates, and it’s what makes the personal relationships of being on a team so interesting to watch. Most of these guys would run through brick walls for one another. Just watch Joel Ward, who’s been a Cap all of five minutes, hug Jason Chimera at the end of last night’s game on your DVR. They look like they just won the lottery.

A hockey player’s instinct is to defend teammates whether they are right or wrong. It’s the type of familial, unconditional acceptance that defies the business side of pro sports. Even when a player makes a dirty or questionable hit, you’ll see someone willing to drop the mitts in his place step in more times than not.

Which brings us back to Carlson. It seems the tweet that drew his ire was something Douglas posted as a response to one of Alzner’s. The young d-man was expressing his gratitude for Beagle’s heart, posting a simple “#JayBeagle83” from his verified account (@karlalzner). This response from Douglas seemed to be what got under Carlson’s skin: “I think what @karlalzner means is R.I.P. #JayBeagle83″. Alzner chimed in with a more tame (and public) “are you serious? Give your head a shake. Ridiculous.” In a weird way, Douglas got to participate in some sort of NHL fantasy camp, where you pretend to chirp between whistles with your most hated rival. I doubt she sees it that way.

I love Carlson and Alzner as the Capitals’ feature shutdown pairing. I love how they let it all hang out, openly supporting one another and yucking it up on Twitter to give the fans a taste of their locker room hi-jinx. I love the promise they represent: of a long period of success for the Caps.

Jay Beagle proved tonight that he’s a tough guy. He probably doesn’t need Carlson to step in and defend him from any hockey fan, much less a 20 year-old Penguins fan. It’s easy to forget that Carlson is only 21 himself. He could’ve gone to high school with Morgan Douglas. That, and the fact that they are both just Twitter handles (albeit one with many more followers than the other) probably made it seem like it was no big deal for Carlson to vent directly at Douglas. The line of accessibility is blurred in both directions. Fans yell things from the stands onto the ice because, in 99% of interactions the player won’t hear, won’t care, and won’t respond. Twitter may be the most efficient method of yelling at athletes ever devised. The smart ones see it for what it is: noise from the stands. They respond accordingly. The emotional, under-informed, or the naive, take things personally and as the old Internet adage goes “feed the trolls.” Have we learned nothing from “When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong”?

Carlson’s going to be a Capital for a long time, log a ton of ice time and if the Caps make it to a Stanley Cup Final, he’ll be a major contributor to their success. He and Beagle are part of a young corps of exciting players with plenty of room to grow. Tonight, they both hopefully learned a couple valuable lessons:

A) Keep your dukes up.

B) Even if they prod you, don’t feed the trolls (or “mutants”).


Dave Gilmore lives in Baltimore and writes “The Win Column” for Baltimore Sports Report.  He is currently working on a novel about college football.  Find him on Twitter @dave_gilmore or visit his web site at davegilmorejr.com