PITTSBURGH - Here's the funny thing about the NHL:
The league has a huge issue with hits to the head. A lot of those hits come about because large players are moving rapidly on a crowded rink in a contact sport.
Sidney Crosby took two head shots at the beginning of January and hasn't played since. That's bad for the NHL's business.
On Thursday night at Consol Energy Center, the Penguins' Arron Asham engaged in a fight with Jay Beagle of the Washington Capitals.
After struggling momentarily to get his arm free, Asham landed two right-handed punches that were devastating.
He scored a bloody knockdown of Beagle. The wobbly Beagle had to be helped from the ice and wasn't allowed to return to the game because the Capitals were obligated to test him for concussion symptoms.
The NHL is studying how to curtail head injuries that come in the course of playing the game. But the league is OK with consenting players standing toe-to-toe to throw bare-knuckled punches at each other's heads.
Why? Because fighting is good for the NHL's business.
For all the lip service paid to protecting players, the NHL likes fights. The reaction of Thursday night's crowd proved that the lust for fighting is still strong.
Most fights these days are between end-of-the-bench players who don't otherwise play a major role.
Sidney Crosby can't be replaced, but enforcers come and go.
Don't hit an opponent in the head in the NHLunless the gloves are off.
Playing to the crowd
Must have been an interesting reaction in the owners box when Asham left the ice making pro wrestling gestures to mock Beagle.
To Asham's credit, he quickly realized his mistake. He tapped his stick to show respect as Beagle left the ice and also admitted immediately after the game he was wrong, using the word "classless" to describe his action.
After Mario Lemieux came out strongly against the ridiculous debacle on Long Island in February, the last thing he needed was an employee borrowing from the Islanders' code.
Mehno can be reached at Johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com