I’ll say it if nobody else will: Matt Cooke has become a liability for the Pittsburgh Penguins, even when he’s not doing things Jeremy Roenick calls “chickenshit.”
Before charging/boarding Fedor Tyutin last night, before he “clipped skates” with Alexander Ovechkin on Sunday afternoon, even before the Marc Savard Incident, Cooke had a reputation. Like it or not, refs check numbers, and they’re likely to adjust their view of a play when 24 in Black and Vegas Gold is involved.
I don’t have numbers on hand, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that Cooke has drawn fewer penalties against opposing players since the Savard headshot. He’s certainly taking more penalties. In fact, he’s already matched last season’s total PIM (106 in 79 games) in only 54 games this season. Is he getting more careless, or are the referees keeping an eye on him more closely than before?
A lot from Column A, a little from Column B. Cooke has had a few games this year where he racked up three or four minors for old agitation tricks that don’t work any more. A well-worn path to the penalty box is a very bad thing for one of the Penguins’ best penalty killers.
With this latest escapade, Cooke is putting head coach Dan Bylsma in a bind. Publicly, Bylsma has to have his boy’s back. Half-heartedly repeating Cooke’s “Tyutin saw the hit coming” defense ought to be galling to Bylsma, but he still has to say it. Privately, however, I hope Bylsma is pouring hellfire on Cooke right now for a double-major last night (charging and a subsequent fight with Derick Brassard) and a four-game suspension as a consequence.
After a home game with the Kings Thursday night, the Penguins play their next four on the road. They’ll embark on this road trip without Sidney Crosby (concussion, LTIR), Evgeni Malkin (torn ACL and MCL, done for the year), and Mark Letestu (knee surgery, out 4-6 weeks) for sure, while Chris Kunitz is day-to-day with a leg injury.
Perfect timing for Cooke to take himself out of the lineup by being an idiot, right?