Thursday, February 14, 2013

Matt Cooke is back! Penguins beat Senators, 4-2

By GTOG Staff

Imagine if Sidney Crosby didn't score a goal for the next 2 years, then a puck went in off his butt, and people started screaming, "See? Best player in the world!"

See! Best Achilles stomper in the world!
That's essentially what's happening with the people who are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Matt Cooke intentionally sliced Erik Karlsson's Achilles last night, a group being led by Mike Harrington, the Sabres reporter from the Buffalo News. (You can check his Twitter for the insanity)

Isn't that Chet's shirt?
Here's as simple as we can make our opinion on the Cooke-Karlsson incident.  First, it's fantastic to have the villainous Matt Cooke back, one that is not only despised by the rest of the league, but very effective on the ice.  He brought nothing -- literally, nothing -- over the first 6 games, but has slowly shown a little more sandpaper and scoring touch (5 points in last 6 games).  Last night he was even serviceable on Malkin's wing, which only sounds like a compliment because he's following Eric Tangradi and Zach Boychuk (like following Amanda Bynes on your driving test), but still.  Last year the Pens were missing effective grit -- everything was either an Asham fight or a Malkin offensive zone penalty.  As long as Cooke can avoid crossing over into dirty player territory again, his return to infamy is long overdue.

But that leads to the second question -- was the hit on Karlsson dirty?  We're going to have to agree with Matthew Barnaby on this one, who took to Twitter last night to defend Cooke.  Barnaby did so with the usually obnoxious "you didn't play the game" tactic, but last night he was right on.  If you've never played hockey and you watch the video or some slow motion .gif to conclude that Cooke intentionally stepped down on Karlsson's Achilles, through an opening about the width of a skate blade while Cooke was looking the other direction, then the only thing you're doing is proving that you hate Matt Cooke and can act fake outraged with the best of 'em.

BREAKING NEWS: skate blades are not on the ice at all times. 
In our view, Cooke tried to ride Karlsson into the boards and while they were jockeying for position, Cooke lifted his left leg to regain his balance.  Imagine if someone pushed you really hard from your left side.  Your left leg would come off the ground as you tried to regain your balance on your right leg.  Unfortunately, when he tried to put his left leg down (again, while he was looking to the right), he cut Karlsson.

But if the league is determined to assign some blame to Cooke, the worst that is supported by the video is that Cooke tried some super-awkward slew foot of Karlsson and it didn't work because Karlsson is such a strong skater.  Then Cooke's leg is left in no-man's land and comes down on Karlsson's Achilles.   If the league wants to go this route and suspend him for a game or two, we're all accustomed to that.  The easiest and laziest thing to do in any sports debate is to fall back on a player's reputation from years ago when the current video isn't fitting the narrative you want to tell.  After all, how do you think Maurkice Pouncey keeps making the Pro Bowl every year?

More thoughts after the jump...
- Marc-Andre Fleury's performance last night was a microcosm of his season.  Very strong for long stretches, but we can never get comfortable for a full 60 minutes.  There was no doubt that he was going to stone Alfredsson's one-timer; there's also no doubt that something terrible usually happens when the puck is behind the net.  Still, two goals against and a win.  Can't complain.

- Back to Cooke for a second.  Bryan Murray, the Ottawa GM, is understandably upset about losing one of the best defensemen in the league but his quote last night --  “It’s Matt Cooke. What else should I say? Watch the replay” -- is very revealing.  His only argument is that it's Matt Cooke; he literally has nothing else to say.  Sad man, sadder argument.  It's critically important that he never wins a Stanley Cup.

Reckless goal celebration?
- Who would have thought Paul Martin was a possible answer on the power play?  Us (arguably).

- The power play that ultimately resulted in a Crosby goal seconds after it expired was mesmerizing. The PP is at 27.3%.  There is no excuse for it finishing under 25%.  It has the capability to be that good.

- We missed Bobby B. last night.

- Malkin has been unusually quiet for long stretches.

- Zach Boychuk is a terrible version of Sidney Crosby.  But he looked OK on the third line.

- Speaking of the third line, Tyler Kennedy continues to define mediocrity.  He's been so OK for so long that it's hard to muster up any passion about his game.  His career numbers as a 3rd liner are serviceable -- he averages .46 points/game and scores at a 17-goal/season pace -- but they also probably represent his offensive ceiling.  That's why it was encouraging to see him have two great back-checking moments last night.  He's not going to get better offensively unless they start awarding goals for over-stickhandling, but he's a strong skater with decent hockey sense who can get better defensively.  Kudos to him if he's trying.

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