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Matt Cooke’s despicable dirty elbow puts Mario Lemieux and NHL on the hot seat

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It seems that lately not a week goes by without some debate or outrage over a hit. In the last year, the name that comes up more often than not is Matt Cooke. Once again, Cooke delivered a very blatant and dirty hit, this time to New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Cooke’s hit put the Penguins down a man for five minutes as he was ejected for the blow. During the course of the major penalty, the Pens were able to score once shorthanded but allowed two goals to swing the game in their favor.

This time around, his chicken-wing elbow to the back of McDonagh’s head comes during a high-profile game just days after the NHL’s general managers met in Florida to figure out what to do about further reducing blows to the head. Thankfully McDonagh wasn’t injured on the play, that’s the good news. The bad news is that Matt Cooke is continued to terrorize opponents on the ice with his brand of hockey. When not delivering cheap shots, Cooke is an excellent checking forward but today’s incident against the Rangers proves that he just doesn’t get it and the guy that’s going to have his hands full in dealing with him is Penguins owner Mario Lemieux.

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After the Islanders-Penguins brawl in Long Island, Lemieux lambasted the league for not doing enough to protect its players. Lemieux was torn to shreds for his statements for his seeming ignorance that he employs a cheap shot artist of his own. Lemieux then later wrote a letter to Gary Bettman coming up with some very progressive ideas on how to improve punishment for dirty hits including fining teams large sums of money for keeping those players employed under their watch. In that letter, Lemieux owned up to the players of that ilk they have on their team, a nod to those critical of his first statement.

Now all those who clamored for Lemieux to recognize that his employment of Matt Cooke is part of the problem in the NHL have a loud voice again and rightfully so. For all the issues the league is having with players disrespecting each other and delivering questionable hits to one another Cooke is the poster boy for it all. From his boarding of Fedor Tyutin that earned him a four game suspension, to his hit on Ovechkin, and thinking back to his disgusting hit on Marc Savard a year ago the league hasn’t had this obvious of a pariah in its history.

The NHL has whiffed badly on previous instances on an alarmingly consistent basis to show that they give even half of a damn about player safety. For all the talk that went on at the GM meetings we’ve seen the league fail to take charge with their soft two-game punishment of Brad Marchand of the Bruins for connecting to the back of R.J. Umberger’s head with a blow and the failure to punish Patric Hornqvist of the Predators for his elbow on Boston’s Tyler Seguin. Two very dirty plays, two very head-scratching and soft penalties to both. This time around, the league has a lot to work with.

Cooke’s hit touches on a lot of things the league wants to eliminate from the game and makes him the perfect target for a message-sending landmark punishment:

  • He delivered a blindside hit
  • He delivered a blow to the head
  • He targeted McDonagh’s head
  • He’s a repeat offender

If all those things aren’t grounds for a major suspension, then there’s something inherently wrong with everything the league is doing when it comes to disciplining players.

The one guy who could make the debate over what the NHL will do irrelevant is Lemieux. If Lemieux believes in what he was preaching to the world in the wake of the Islanders thuggery against them, he’ll drop the hammer on Cooke himself before the NHL gets to. If Mario comes out and does that, he’ll set the example he was hoping to with his initial decree to the league. People respect Mario and if he takes a stand like that he’ll be an even bigger hero across the league.

We’re going to assume that the NHL’s response to Cooke’s hit will not be sufficient for most people. After all, how do you appropriately punish a player that’s escaped previous bans for any number of reasons and thus getting by on the NHL’s backwards logic that you’re essentially allowed one dirty play before you’re really punished. Cooke’s record looks virtually spotless considering he’s played over 800 games in the NHL and only been suspended for a total of 10 games in his career.

It seems that each time after he does something else foul we rush to yell that it’s an opportunity for the NHL to send a message to the rest of the players that wanton wretched play will not stand in the game. We’ve yet to be wowed by anything the league has done regarding other thugs and cheap shot artists and maybe for once the league can finally do something to be a positive influence instead of just talking about doing things the “right” way.

The Sharks could be looking to acquire a goalie before the trade deadline

San Jose Sharks goalie Alex Stalock (32) blocks a shot in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh Sunday, March 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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In his first season in San Jose, Martin Jones has provided the Sharks with some steady goaltending.

The 26-year-old has 25-15-3 record with a 2.38 goals-against-average and a .915 save percentage in 44 games.

Jones isn’t problem, but the depth behind him could be.

After another ugly performance from backup Alex Stalock against Calgary on Thursday night, The San Jose Mercury News suggests the team could be in the market for another goalie.

Stalock has appeared in just 13 games this season, but with a busy schedule ahead, San Jose will have to rely on someone other than Jones down the stretch.

“My trust level’s good,” DeBoer said of his faith in Stalock. “You can see how important this guy is to the group, how hard they play for him. That’s a situation (on Thursday) where if they didn’t care about him as a teammate, they probably don’t battle back the way they did, so I think that’s a huge testament to what kind of guy this guy is.”

The 28-year-old has a 3-5-2 record with a 2.94 goals-against-average and a .884 save percentage in 2015-16. He’s also given up three goals or more in seven of his 13 appearances.

The Sharks are comfortably in a playoff spot, but the Ducks are just one point behind them for second place in the division.

Whoever finishes in second will get home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Video: Leafs prospect Marner scores an amazing goal that you’ll have to see to believe

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The Toronto Maple Leafs have something special in prospect Mitch Marner.

The 18-year-old’s talent was on full-display on Friday night, as he scored this incredible goal for the London Knights of the OHL.

Marner made Blues second rounder Vince Dunn (no. 4) look pretty ridiculous on the play.

The Leafs prospect was one of Canada’s best forwards at this year’s World Junior Hockey Championship.

He’s second on the Knights in scoring with 32 goals and 86 points in 41 games.

Earlier this week, Snoop Dogg wore a Marner jersey on stage during his show in London.

Not a bad week for the teenager.

Schwartz scores in his return, Blues top the Panthers 5-3

St. Louis Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz celebrates after scoring during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Jaden Schwartz‘s return to St. Louis’ lineup may be just what the Blues offense needs.

Schwartz, David Backes and Robby Fabbri scored in the first period and St. Louis rolled to a 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers on Friday night.

After missing 49 games with a fractured ankle suffered during a team practice, Schwartz scored his first goal of the season to put the Blues up 2-1 at 15:57 of the first period.

“I didn’t know what to expect, so it went well. It was fun being a part of the team again and contributing,” Schwartz said. “It was a good line rush. (Tarasenko) made a great play to (Colton Parayko). He shot and I kind of went to the net and got a lucky bounce on my stick there.”

Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen also scored for the Blues, and Parayko had two assists.

St. Louis had scored just 10 goals in its last seven games, including one or fewer in five of its last six.

Winning goaltender Brian Elliott said Schwartz brings a spark.

“Yes, especially when everybody is pulling for him,” said Elliott, who had 29 saves in his 13th straight start. “He’s been watching games for I?don’t know how many months now, so it’s good to see him get back out there and put it in right away. We obviously can’t expect that every night, but he’s a big piece to our puzzle.”

Derek MacKenzie, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau scored for Florida, and Jaromir Jagr had two assists.

Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo moved past Glenn Hall into sixth in career NHL games played with his 907th appearance. He had 10 saves before being replaced after the first period by Al Montoya. Montoya stopped 13 of 15 shots.

“It was just to shake up the team,” Florida coach Gerard Gallant said. “We weren’t happy with how we were playing. It actually worked a little bit in the second.

“They come hard. They play their game. We just didn’t play physical enough in the first. After the first, I thought we were fine.”

Gallant said he would decide Saturday if the 36-year-old Luongo would return to face the Nashville Predators for starts on consecutive nights.

The game featured a matchup of two of the league’s stingiest defenses, with Florida second-best in allowing just 2.26 goals per game while St. Louis’s 2.32 ranked fifth.

However, the first period was all about St. Louis pushing forward and taking advantage of Florida’s defensive breakdowns.

MacKenzie scored 5:05 in with his third goal against St. Louis this season, but then the Blues blitzed Luongo and the Atlantic Division-leading Panthers with three goals in a 7:25 span.

Backes ended a 10-game scoreless drought with his 13th goal at 12:16 by beating Luongo on the stick side.

“That was a big monkey off my back. It’s great to contribute offensively,” Backes said.

Schwartz put the rebound of Parayko’s shot past Luongo at 15:57 for his first of the season.

Fabbri scored on the power play with 19 seconds left for his 12th goal.

Tarasenko scored his 27th goal on a rebound at 8:00 of the second period to make it 4-1 before Ekblad’s 11th goal at 10:44 cut into the lead.

Huberdeau trimmed the margin to one goal when he tallied his 11th by tapping in a pass through the crease from Campbell at 10:47 of the third.

Steen roofed his 16th goal at 12:17 to help St. Louis regain the two-goal margin and beat the Panthers again in Florida, where the Blues haven’t lost since 2011.

“They’re just a sound team,” MacKenzie said of the Blues. “They have guys who can put the puck in the net.

“When you makes mistakes or spend too much time in your end zone, sooner or later it’s going to burn you.”

NOTES: St. Louis D Alex Pietrangelo (knee) is expected to miss at least three weeks. … Last season, the Blues were an NHL-best 21-8-3 in play outside of the Western Conference but entered their game with Florida just 10-9-5 against the Eastern this year. … The Panthers recalled F John McFarland, a 2010 second-round pick (33rd overall), from Portland (AHL). The 23-year-old McFarland was scratched from the lineup. … Florida top-line center Aleksander Barkov (upper body) missed his second consecutive game after being injured in Detroit. … The club sent down F Corban Knight.

Varlamov steps up with ‘phenomenal’ performance versus Red Wings

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
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DETROIT (AP) Semyon Varlamov lifted his team to a win on a night when the rest of the Colorado Avalanche were outplayed thoroughly.

Varlamov made 43 saves and Blake Comeau scored in both the third period and the shootout to help the Avalanche to a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night. It was the highest save total of the season for Varlamov.

“He was phenomenal for us,” Colorado coach Patrick Roy said. “We had back-to-back games and got in late last night. Not trying to find an excuse, but they’re a good puck-possession team. Our goalie needed to be our best player for us to win and he was.”

Matt Duchene also scored for the Avalanche, who won despite being outshot 45-21. Colorado has won nine of its last 12 road games.

Jonathan Ericsson and Pavel Datsyuk scored for Detroit, which had its three-game winning streak snapped.

“I thought we played really good,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “I thought our energy level was great, I thought we won tons of puck races and puck battles in the `O’ zone, I thought we shot the puck well, we had net presence. … What you can really control is your process and I thought our process was great.”

The Avalanche, who won at Ottawa on Thursday, improved to 6-2 on the season in the second game of back-to-backs. The shootout went four rounds, and Comeau ended it by beating Petr Mrazek with a wrist shot to the glove side.

Datsyuk scored Detroit’s only goal of the shootout. Varlamov denied Dylan Larkin, Brad Richards and Gustav Nyquist.

Nathan MacKinnon had Colorado’s first goal of the shootout on the third attempt by the Avalanche – Detroit would have won if Mrazek had stopped him.

“We play a team game. A goalie can’t win a game by himself,” Varlamov said. “We scored two nice goals, and then in the shootout a nice goal by Nate saved us and then Blake scored on a nice shot.”

Duchene opened the scoring in the first period after the Red Wings were sloppy with the puck in their own zone. Colorado’s Mikhail Grigorenko backhanded a pass to Duchene, who scored from around the edge of the crease.

Detroit evened it up in the second when Ericsson’s wrist shot from the point deflected off Duchene and then skipped off the ice surface and past Varlamov.

Comeau put Colorado ahead in the third with a shot from the slot, but the Red Wings answered on a power play when Datsyuk backhanded the puck past Varlamov from in close with 10:09 remaining in regulation.

The Avalanche had 25 blocked shots to Detroit’s four, underscoring just how much of the game was played in Colorado’s zone, but the Red Wings came away with just the one point for the shootout loss. Nyquist had a great chance in overtime when he swooped in alone on Varlamov, but his backhander was stopped.

Detroit’s Darren Helm had a career-high nine shots on goal.

“He’s shooting from everywhere,” Detroit’s Luke Glendening said. “I was hoping one would go in for him, but I think it’s a good sign that he’s getting a lot of chances.”

NOTE: Detroit D Mike Green returned after missing two games with a sore groin, and D Danny DeKeyser played after leaving Detroit’s win over Ottawa on Wednesday during the third period because of a bruised right leg. … The Red Wings were short-handed for the final 92 seconds of overtime, but managed to kill the penalty.