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?
How head coach Dan Bylsma views the power play:
I think early on, when Gonchar was gone, we looked initially for one play and a shot. We haven’t gotten in position. We haven’t gotten puck support. We haven’t gotten a lot of zone time as a result. It’s almost the ‘Hoosier’ mentality in basketball — you need four passes to set it up, break them down, get them running around, spread them out and then get shots and chances.
How the fans view the power play:
As soon as Goligoski crosses center red, yell “SHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT!”
We were left for dead in July, when Marian Hossa went all-in with Detroit and the Lightning paid a king’s ransom for Ryan Malone.
We were left for dead in October, when all the talk was about the Runner Up Curse.
We were left for dead in December, when we could only muster 15 shots on Tampa Bay’s rotating-door defense.
We were left for dead after the Valentine’s Day Massacre that cost Michel Therrien his job.
We were left for dead in February, when a 1-0 win over the Islanders wasn’t enough.
We were left for dead when Washington won their first two games at Verizon Center.
We’ve heard this before. We’ve been here before.
We’re not dead.
I’m sorry, Philly, I can’t hear you.
* Value Over Replacement Goligoski
“Personal reasons,” eh? Maybe I should have checked the Bruins schedule last night. (Update: ESPN’s Scott Burnside is reporting that Whitney’s mother had successful surgery to remove a brain tumor yesterday. The whole “family in Boston/Anaheim at Boston” thing turned out to be a coincidence, and one that’s working out well for the Whitney family in the end.)
The Pens have traded defenseman Ryan Whitney, his significant cap hit, and his deteriorating hands to the Anaheim Ducks for left wing Chris Kunitz and junior left wing Eric Tangradi.
I say “deteriorating hands” because Whitney’s play since returning from foot surgery has been typified by the sudden inability to make or receive a pass. I was never part of the crowd screaming for Whitney to hit somebody. Expecting a defenseman valued for his positional play and offensive skills to suddenly become Scott Stevens makes as much sense as expecting him to become a chipped ham sandwich. But puck-handling was one of Whit’s best assets, and he hasn’t been doing that well at all this year. He was whiffing on outlet passes. On the power play, he’d send dangerously vague floaters along the blue line to Gonchar. He might as well have been using a length of rebar for a stick, the way received passes would clank three feet away.
The final straw for Whitney was the emergence of Alex Goligoski this year. Both players are cut from the same cloth, but Goligoski is younger, cheaper, and (at least this year) more reliable. The only thing he was missing was experience and playing time, especially after Gonchar returned from his shoulder injury, so he’s back in Wilkes-Barre, a victim of the numbers game.
In return, we’re getting another attempt to solve the riddle of Sidney Crosby’s Scoring Winger, at least indirectly. Kunitz is a consistent 20-goal guy, but I’m not sure if he’d fit with Sid right off the bat. If nothing else, he’ll give Dan Bylsma a little more flexibility when line-building.
Tangradi was Anaheim’s 2nd round pick in 2007, and is in his second year of juniors with Belleville. A 6’4″ 20 year old from Philly(!), he’s posting strong numbers in a power forward role this year.
In salary cap terms, Ray Shero has opened up a little bit of space, but not much. Whitney’s cap value is around $4m, and Kunitz’s is $3.75m.
With less than a week to go before the deadline, this could be the move that sets up the move, if the Penguins are looking to be buyers. Here’s the playoff situation as it stands today:
- The Pens are 2 points out of 8th in the East.
- Buffalo has lost Ryan Miller indefinitely to a high ankle sprain, and they have no confidence in backup Patrick Lalime.
- Nobody knows what to make of the Canadiens’ circus.
- John Tortorella still has to stop the free-fall of the Rangers.
- Florida has 2 games in hand, but 3 of their 4 games with the Pens are after the trade deadline.
- Carolina is the forgotten contender, lurking in the shadows, with one more game against the Pens, in Raleigh in early April.
If I’m Ray Shero, I like my chances for the playoffs, but I also don’t think there’s a season-turning blockbuster deal out there. I’m anticipating some trades that keep the team competitive this year, while also freeing up cap space for the free agent market.
Chris Osgood shutting out the Penguins and proving his critics wrong? Marian Hossa held to an assist on a Valtteri Filppula goal? That I could live with.
Instead, it’s Ty Conklin getting the shutout, and Hossa scoring a back-breaking goal.
That’s Fate twisting the knife.
Against the godforsaken Tampa Bay Lightning.
If Michel Therrien isn’t peeling paint off the walls right now, consider this season over now.
Yeah, the Islanders were scuffling along heading into last night’s game. But with the Penguins playing their second game on back-to-back nights, and Sid suffering from an uncharacteristic case of the yips, my expectations weren’t that high.
Certainly not “first career hat tricks for Sykora and Dupuis” high. Not “3 5-on-3 power plays” high. Not even “New York dresses 20 traffic cones in Islanders sweaters” high. I would have settled for Curry holding his own and a 3-2 trapfest.
Instead, I’ll take a 9-2 laugher into Philthy. Much better.
During the last TV time-out of the first period tonight, the Penguins welcomed the Versus broadcast crew.
And the fans booed.
People, John Buccigross isn’t walking through that door. Gary Thorne and Bill Clement aren’t walking through that door.
Versus won’t be winning any Emmy awards for a while, but that’s no excuse for being rude and ungrateful to the only network willing to air hockey games in the United States.
Once upon a time, Mario Lemieux would single-handedly turn around hockey games by sheer force of will.
The Penguins would have a rough 1st period, fall behind by 2 or 3 goals, and shamble around for the first 5:00 or so of the 2nd, just for good measure. Then Mario would get disgusted and say to himself, “Yes, I do have to carry the entire team tonight, so I better get started.”
And the Pens would then reel off 4 straight goals, and 66 would have a hand in all of them, and a 3-0 deficit would end up a 5-3 win. (Guess who got the empty netter?)
It was like Mario had a secret button hidden somewhere on the bench. One of those big red industrial emergency stop buttons with a Lucite molly guard marked “FUCK IT, WE’RE WINNING THIS GAME!”
Now I’m picturing Jordan Staal in last night’s Pens/Red Wings game. It’s the 3rd period, he’s just finished a shift, he’s back on the bench, and he has to adjust a shin guard. He leans over, and something catches his eye. There, mounted under the top sill of the dasher, is that red button. The inscription on the plastic cover tempts him. He wonders, “Is that hooked up to us or the Wings? Is this a trick? Can Coach see me? Nah, he’s giving Hasenfratz the stink eye over that interference call on Sid… It’s already 5-2, what’s the worst that could happen?”
One hat trick and a Grand Theft Datsyuk later, he’s partying with Ruslan Fedotenko. The Penguins have extracted a small measure of revenge on the Red Wings. The Detroit faithful are walking away frustrated by the night, and maybe a little worried about a real rematch in this year’s Finals.
The last three meetings between these clubs ended with two overtime wins for the Pens after game tying goals at the death and one near miss. When the Wings play perfect hockey for 60 minutes, they’ve proven that they can beat the Penguins. But the split second they show a weak spot in their defenses, the Pens attack it, break through it, and then it’s the Wings hanging on for dear life.
Last year, the Pens had a breakthrough game in November against the Ottawa Senators, defending Eastern Conference champions and off to a torrid start. From that day forward, they made strong, steady progress toward a division title, and laid waste to the Eastern Conference side of the playoff bracket. Could this be another November Breakthrough? Does this mean that the Penguins are finding that next level that will lead them to the promised land?
We may not need the button again this year.