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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.

Just another big game for Filip Forsberg

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10:  Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 10, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Predators 4-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Filip Forsberg‘s bid for a hat trick in three consecutive games didn’t quite pan out Saturday. Fear not, he still had a three-point night.

The 22-year-old Forsberg has been lighting it up of late for the Predators. He had back-to-back hat tricks already this week, the first player to do so since 2010. He then helped lead the way against the Washington Capitals on Saturday, with a goal and two assists in a 5-2 win over the best team in the NHL.

That’s nine points in the last three games and 10 points in the last four games for Forsberg. The win pushes Nashville back into third in the Central Division — two points better than St. Louis and 12 points back of second place Chicago.

Of course there was animosity late in the game when it appeared the Predators were too far out of reach of the Capitals, as Tom Wilson decided to fight Mike Fisher.

After falling behind in the second period, the Capitals thought they had closed the gap early in the third period only to have video review from a coach’s challenge determine Alex Ovechkin was just offside at the blue line, overturning the original call.

 

Video: Manning crushes Guentzel with massive hit

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The Penguins were up in arms after Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning crushed Jake Guentzel with a hit that appeared both high and late during the second period of Saturday’s Stadium Series game at Heinz Field.

There was no call on the play — the main objection from Pittsburgh’s bench immediately after the hit.

Guentzel had just moved the puck to a nearby linemate as the play transitioned into the neutral zone when Manning threw the hit, sending Guentzel hard to the ice.

Guentzel, for now at least, appears to have gotten the last laugh. He returned and recorded the primary assist on Nick Bonino‘s goal, which gave Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead.

Philly has since cut into the Pittsburgh lead.

Quick wins in his return, Kings rally versus Ducks

Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, of Slovenia, and goalie Jonathan Quick congratulate each other after defeating the Dallas Stars in an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Kings won 3-2. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Welcome back, Jonathan Quick.

Starting for the first time since Oct. 12 — an absence of 59 games due to a groin injury — Quick was solid in his return against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday. He stopped 32 shots, allowing for the Kings to eventually find some offense in a 4-1 victory over their California rivals.

The Kings trailed going into the third period, but came alive with four unanswered goals for an important win in the Western Conference playoff race. Tyler Toffoli scored twice and Jeff Carter secured the win with his 30th goal of the season — after he appeared dazed in a fight with Ryan Kesler earlier in the game.

In typical fashion, tempers boiled over between these two teams. In typical fashion, Corey Perry was once again at the center of the mayhem. He tripped Anze Kopitar in the second period, leading to a melee before Brayden McNabb and Nate Thompson paired off in the main event.

“I think the game kind of led to the third. I thought we were playing great leading up to it,” said Quick, per LA Kings Insider.

“We were creating chances, played hard, heavy and I think if we don’t play like that in the first two periods we don’t get four in the third so we got rewarded for our work over 60 minutes.”

Again, this is a big win for the Kings.

Getting back into the top three in the Pacific Division seems like a tall, if not impossible order with 21 games remaining on their schedule and only four wins in their last 10 games. Anaheim, third in the division, is 10 points ahead.

But this win does help the Kings in their bid for a wild card spot.

They are only three points back of St. Louis for the final playoff spot in the conference. Nashville was victorious over Washington a few hours after L.A. defeated Anaheim, so the Predators move into third in the Central.

Quick winning in his return is huge news for the Kings. But more importantly, the players they rely on for offensive production came through. Kopitar had two assists. Carter had a two-point night. Ditto for Toffoli. Tanner Pearson had three assists.

It’s been a lack of production from top players that coach Darryl Sutter has lamented during his team’s recent struggles.

“It’s the only way we’re going to make the playoffs. Those guys held scoreless or shut down or outplayed by the other team’s top guys, we won’t make the playoffs,” said Sutter.

“They have to.”

WATCH LIVE: Flyers at Penguins from Heinz Field

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 15: Claude Giroux #28 of the Philadelphia Flyers and Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins go toe-to-toe prior to fighting during the first period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 15, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins are going to take their rivalry outside on Saturday.

The Flyers visit the Penguins in a Stadium Series clash at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, beginning at 8 p.m. ET. You can catch the action on NBC or online with the NBC Sports Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Goalie nods: Murray, Neuvirth get the call at Heinz Field

Kris Letang won’t play in outdoor game; Schultz game-time decision

NHL On NBC: Penguins, Flyers meet in Stadium Series

Giroux: ‘It’s all business’ between Penguins and Flyers at Heinz Field