Will Matt Cooke be a changed man next season?

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While the NHL is largely populated by good guys and “aw shucks” characters, the violent sport breeds a certain amount of pests and hitters who gain the ire of the general hockey populace. Few players can compete with the villainous reputation that Matt Cooke has developed with fans, writers and hockey people in general, though.

Despite possessing strong penalty killing chops (Cooke averaged 2:45 minute of shorthanded time per game in 2010-11) and the occasional bits of offensive flourish, Cooke is defined by the many dirty hits he’s delivered over the years. Much of the hate comes from his “legal” hit on Marc Savard during the 2009-10 season, but he’s been a repeat offender who received two different suspensions last season alone. It seemed like fans of other NHL teams brought up Cooke’s name mere moments after Penguins owner and former star Mario Lemieux complained about the New York Islanders’ conduct during that notorious February 11 “brawlfest.” His antics are seen as a black eye on the Penguins franchise, if not the sport as a whole.

That being said, there are glimpses of humanity even for a supposed “monster” like Cooke. HBO’s 24/7 series caught some adorable moments between Cooke and his son. Like many other hockey players, he seems like a far more mild mannered person once he’s off the ice – his image becomes more mixed when you consider his charitable work.

Perhaps most importantly, it sounds like Cooke is hoping to clean up his act. That’s something he discussed with the Altoona Mirror after being involved in ceremonial first pitch activities for Double-A baseball team the Altoona Curve this week.

Cooke’s list of on-ice transgressions may read like the average felon’s rap sheet, but at the end of last season, Cooke promised the Penguins and their president, former Hall-of-Fame center Mario Lemieux, that he would change his ways.

“It’s a mentality, it’s how I’m going to approach the game,” Cooke said of his plan to clean up his act. “And the team has worked hard in supporting me to accomplish these minor tweaks in my game.”

Cooke told the media after the hit on McDonagh that “I don’t want to hurt anybody. That’s not my intention. I know I can be better.”

Indeed, Cooke is a compassionate humanitarian off the ice. Cooke and his wife Michelle – who now live in Pittsburgh with their three children – run a charity known as The Cooke Family Foundation of Hope that operates in the Vancouver area and has raised thousands of dollars to help families and individuals facing a wide variety of life crises.

Technically, Cooke shot a “first puck” while his 7-year-old son Jackson threw out a first pitch. Here’s video of that unusual ceremony, found via Puck Daddy.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

When it comes to Cooke’s reputation in the eyes of many, the damage has already been done. The bottom line, however, is that Cooke will probably be around for a while; his current contract won’t expire until after the 2012-13 season. With that in mind, here’s hoping that Cooke changes his ways, because his previous “style” amounted to a lot of dangerous hits that frequently went over the line. Under all that ugliness, there’s an effective NHL hockey player – even if many will understandably find it difficult to forgive him for his past transgressions.

The Buzzer: Bergeron’s at it again, Nash’s resurgence continues

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Players of the Night:

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: Bergeron did it again. The perennial Selke contender showed off his scoring prowess (again), scoring his second hat trick in 12 days. He now has nine goals and five assists in his past eight games. The Bruins have run up a 15-game point streak (11-0-4).

Rick Nash, New York Rangers: Nash scored twice for the second consecutive game in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Nash now has four goals in this past two games after putting up a goose egg in his previous 12.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: MacKinnon’s successes this season have been well documented, and he kept that narrative going with two more goals — his 21st and 22nd — and an assist in the Avs 5-3 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Highlights of the Night:

Bergeron’s hat trick came after some trickery by Brad Marchand:

A Double Dustin:

Robin Lehner made this dandy of a save. Unfortunately, he allowed a goal moments later. Still, this save.

Bonehead play of the Night:

Dustin Brown strikes again. This time in the wrong category. Someone’s getting suspended.

Factoids of the Night:

MISC:

Scores:

Devils 4, Capitals 3 (OT)

Bruins 5, Islanders 2

Blue Jackets 2, Stars 1 (SO)

Rangers 4, Sabres 3

Blues 4, Senators 1

Golden Knights 4, Lightning 1

Flyers 3, Maple Leafs 2 (OT)

Predators 3, Coyotes 2 (SO)

Avalanche 5, Sharks 3

Penguins 3, Kings 1


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Hornqvist, DeSmith help lift the Penguins past the Kings 3-1

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The Pittsburgh Penguins annual jaunt up the west coast didn’t start according to plan on Wednesday.

The Pens dropped a 5-3 decision to the Anaheim Ducks and had to quickly rest and recover for a date with the Los Angeles Kings 24 hours later.

The odds weren’t favoring them, but the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions pulled one out of their hats in a 3-1 win in the City of Angels on Thursday, handing the Kings their fifth straight loss.

The Penguins handed Casey DeSmith his first NHL start and the New Hampshire native stepped up in the absence of Matt Murray, who missed his first game after the passing of his father on Tuesday.

DeSmith filled in admirably making 28 saves in his first NHL win, and he got some timely goal support, including two markers from Patric Hornqvist.

Hornqvist alleviated some of the first-start jitters on DeSmith as he opened the scoring 43 seconds into the first period.

The lead lasted until the 14:10 mark of the second period when Adrian Kempe made a slick deke on DeSmith to tie the game 1-1.

Evgeni Malkin broke the deadlock with another early period goal for the Penguins.

Pittsburgh went on the offensive off the opening faceoff, and after a point shot was blocked in front, Malkin grabbed the rebound in the slot and fired his 21st home on a wrist shot past Jonathan Quick.

Malkin finished the game with a goal and an assist.

Hornqvist added some insurance just after the midway point of the third, making it 3-1 on the power play with his second of the night.

Meanwhile, Dustin Brown was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct after boarding Justin Schultz in the third period.

Schultz had to leave the game and did not return.

Schultz said he was fine after the game and that he did not suffer a concussion on the play.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck-

Rick Nash scores twice as Rangers edge Sabres 4-3

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Prior to Tuesday’s win, New York Rangers forward Rick Nash had gone 12 games without a goal.

They had lost three straight and the man they needed to start scoring again simply couldn’t.

But on Tuesday in a 5-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers, Nash found his stride.

And on Thursday night he notched two more in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on NBCSN.

Nash opened the scoring for the Rangers 1:24 into the game, taking advantage of a defensive mishap by Jake McCabe, who couldn’t handle a puck as the last man back and allowed Nash in on a breakaway.

The Sabres would respond by periods’ end, starting their first of three comebacks on the night.

Kyle Okposo brought the game to level terms with 1:19 remaining in the first period, completing a tic-tac-toe play on the power play.

The Sabres came into the game with the 31st ranking on the man-advantage, but managed to score twice with it in Thursday’s game.

The Rangers regained the lead through J.T. Miller in the second period.

New York just went through a power play without registering a shot on goal, but Miller was able to grab the puck at the right circle moments after the Sabres’ penalty had expired and rifled a wrist shot bar down behind Lehner at 8:26.

The Sabres engineered their second comeback of the game, tying it 2-2 the game later in the period from an unlikely source.

Justin Falk had gone 101 games without putting a puck in the back of the net. Not since March 6, 2015 had Falk seen his name in that category on the scoresheet.

But he shed that monkey off his back on a point shot low along the ice that beat Lundqvist through the five-hole with 2:50 remaining in the frame.

Nash scored his second at the 6:49 mark of the third period, following by Buffalo’s third successful comeback attempt at 14:59 when Rasmus Ristolainen’s shot found its way through a crowd and behind Lundqvist for a 3-3 tie.

Pavel Buchnevich scored the winner 1:03 later, finishing off a nice feed from Mika Zibanejad for his 12th and the Rangers second straight win.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Los Angeles Kings

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PROJECTED LINES

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Sabres vs. Rangers; Penguins vs. Kings]

Los Angeles Kings

Adrian KempeAnze KopitarDustin Brown

Tanner PearsonTrevor LewisTyler Toffoli

Alex IafalloNick ShoreMarian Gaborik

Kyle Clifford — Michael Amadio — Jonny Brodzinski

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty

Jake MuzzinAlec Martinez

Kevin Gravel — Christian Folin

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick