Matt Cooke, Andrei Markov

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.

Goalie nods: Jared Coreau makes NHL debut for Red Wings

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 17:  Jared Coreau #31 of the Detroit Red Wings warms up prior to the start of the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 17, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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With Jimmy Howard still sidelined with an injury, and the Detroit Red Wings playing a set of back-to-back games this weekend, Petr Mrazek is getting the night off on Saturday evening.

Coach Jeff Blashill announced earlier in the day that Jared Coreau will be making his NHL debut tonight. He is going to get quite a test right off the bat as the Red Wings are sending him right into the deep end of the pool as he has to go against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

The 25-year-old Coreau joined the Red Wings organization as an undrafted free agent out of Northern Michigan university back in 2013-14. He has spent all of his time since then playing for Toledo of the ECHL and Grand Rapids of the AHL, and been mostly impressive when given the opportunity with a .924 save percentage in 85 starts for Grand Rapids over the past three years. The thing that stands out the most about him is probably the fact is listed at 6-5, 220 pounds. He is part of the new wave of goaltenders entering the NHL that are absolutely massive in size.

At the other end of the ice, the Penguins are going back to Marc-Andre Fleury after he made one of his best starts of the season on Thursday night against the Dallas Stars, stopping 33 out of 35 shots in a 6-2 win.

The Penguins are still trying to figure out how to handle their tag-team duo with Matt Murray and Fleury, but for the time being it simply seems to be coach Mike Sullivan sticking with the hot hand. For a while, that was clearly Murray and the number of starts reflected that. But as his play has cooled off a bit in recent starts Fleury is now getting another opportunity to take back some playing time.

Elsewhere…

— In the afternoon games we had Michael Leighton and Henrik Lundqvist going for the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers, Scott Darling and Steve Mason going for the Blackhawks and Flyers, Tuukka Rask and Robin Lehner for the Bruins and Sabres, and Keith Kinkaid and Pekka Rinne for the Devils and Predators.

— In Tampa Bay Ben Bishop will look to snap his personal four-game losing streak when he gets the start against Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals. Bishop, the runner up to Holtby in the Vezina Trophy voting a season ago, has had a tough year for the Lightning with a .902 save percentage through his first 16 appearances.

— With Craig Anderson away from the team again to be with his wife, Mike Condon gets the start for the Ottawa Senators. Condon has a .931 save percentage in four starts since joining the Senators. He will be opposed by Roberto Luongo in the Florida net.

Carter Hutton makes his sixth starter of the season — just his second since Nov. 12 — when he gets the call for the St. Louis Blues against Winnipeg. The Jets’ goalie rotation is likely to land on Michael Hutchinson after he was the first goalie off the ice at the morning skate.

Frederik Andersen looks to build on his strong November (.931 save percentage in 12 appearances) when he goes for the Toronto Maple Leafs against Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks.

Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to go for the surprising Columbus Blue Jackets as they look to continue the best start in franchise history when they take on the Arizona Coyotes. His play has been one of the biggest differences for the Blue Jackets this season. Arizona starts Mike Smith.

Semyon Varlamov will make his second start in a row when the Colorado Avalanche host the Dallas Stars. Varlamov has had a tough start to the season with a league-leading 10 losses entering play on Saturday and a .905 save percentage. The Stars have yet to announce their starting goalie. Antti Niemi allowed five goals against the Penguins on Thursday night.

— The Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers have not announced their starting goalies.

Blackhawks announce Corey Crawford will be out after appendectomy

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 28:  Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 28, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Well, now we know why the Chicago Blackhawks had to sign an emergency goaltender for Saturday afternoon.

The team announced that starting goalie Corey Crawford is going to be sidelined after undergoing an appendectomy in Philadelphia on Saturday.

When the morning began the Blackhawks revealed that Crawford would not be available for their game against the Flyers due to an illness, resulting in backup Scott Darling getting the start. The team then had to sign an emergency backup — 23-year-old Eric Semborski, a former club hockey player at Temple University — to sit behind Darling.

Blackhawks team physician Dr. Michael Terry issued the following statement: ““Corey presented this morning with acute appendicitis. He is undergoing an appendectomy today at a Philadelphia hospital. We are anticipating a full recovery and return to play. We will provide details regarding the timeline of his return after we have more information about the surgery.”

In recent years the timeframe for players returning from an appendectomy has ranged from just a couple of days (Ryan Callahan and Jonathan Ericsson) to several weeks. Goaltenders, due to the movements that are required because of the nature of the position, seem to take longer to get back into the lineup than forwards and defenseman.

In the meantime, the Blackhawks will likely rely on Darling to get the bulk of the starts in Crawford’s absence. They will also have an opportunity to make a call up from the AHL.

Crawford has been outstanding for the Blackhawks this season in his 20 starts, currently owning a .927 save percentage. Over the past three years he has developed into one of the best and most consistent goaltenders in the NHL.

After playing in Philadelphia on Saturday, the Blackhawks return home on Sunday to play the Winnipeg Jets and then are back in action again on Tuesday against the Arizona Coyotes.

Waiver news: Predators add Boucher from Devils, Kings waive Purcell

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 20:  Reid Boucher #12 of the New Jersey Devils skates in an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Prudential Center on March 20, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Devils won 2-1.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
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There was some interesting player movement on the NHL’s waiver wire on Saturday afternoon.

First, the Nashville Predators claimed forward Reid Boucher from the New Jersey Devils. What makes that move so fascinating is that the move was officially announced two hours before the two teams played in Nashville.

When the morning started, Boucher was still technically a member of the Devils. After a short walk down the hall to the home locker room, he could very likely be in the lineup on Saturday against his former team.

The 23-year-old Boucher has played in 82 games for the Devils over the past four years, scoring 11 goals to go with 18 assists. He scored eight of those goals a year ago (in only 39 games). He has produced at pretty much every level he has played at so it is probably worthy gamble for the Predators to take.

Elsewhere, the Los Angeles Kings placed veteran forward Teddy Purcell on waivers after a slow start to the season that has seen him record just two assists in 12 games.

The Kings signed Purcell over the summer to a one-year, $1.6 million contract on the first day of free agency.

Purcell, 31, has always been a favorite of the advanced stats community because of his possession numbers and the fact he has usually produced like a top-six forward, but has bounced around the league a little bit over the past couple of years, playing for Tampa Bay, Edmonton, Florida, and Los Angeles since the start of the 2013-14 season.

In 76 games for the Oilers and Panthers in 2015-16 he scored 14 goals and added 29 assists.

The Blackhawks had to sign an emergency goalie for today’s game

SUNRISE, FL - JANUARY 22:  Scott Darling #33 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks on during a game against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center on January 22, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Blackhawks will be without starting goaltender Corey Crawford on Saturday afternoon against the Philadelphia Flyers due to an illness. That means his backup, Scott Darling, will get the start in goal. Nothing really out of the ordinary here until you realize somebody has to serve as the backup for Darling.

With Crawford unavailable, and a 1 p.m. ET puck drop preventing the team from making a call up from the American Hockey League, the team needed to scramble to find another goalie.

To fill that vacancy the team announced less than an hour before the start of their game that it has signed Eric Semborski to an amateur tryout contract to serve as Darling’s backup for the day.

If that name does not register with you, it is understandable.

According to the Blackhawks the 23-year-old Semborski “played club hockey with Temple University and for the Empire Junior Hockey League’s Jersey Wildcats.”

He has no professional hockey experience.

Every year you see a handful of situations like this when a team needs a goaltender at the last minute. It is usually a former college player or a team’s junior prospect that is closer to the team at that moment than the minor league team is. It is sure to be an amazing experience for Semborski to get to spend a day in an NHL uniform and take in the game from the bench.

The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are probably hoping nothing happens to Darling over the next two-and-a-half hours.