Matt Cooke Pascal Dupuis Matt Niskanen

Matt Cooke steals headlines in Penguins’ shootout win


It only makes sense that a sloppy but enjoyable game like tonight’s Pittsburgh Penguins-Vancouver Canucks match ended with a guilty pleasure “skills competition.” While Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin scored gorgeous shootout goals to help the Penguins hold on for a 4-3 SO win, most of tonight’s game didn’t go as expected.

Malkin earned an assist on James Neal’s opportunistic goal on the power play, but he was held in check in a way that he didn’t experience very often during a red-hot preseason. (Malkin’s chemistry with Neal and veteran winger Steve Sullivan was apparent on multiple plays, however, so it remains reasonable to maintain confidence in his Hart Trophy candidacy.)

Instead of a big first night for Geno, Vancouver’s would-be MVP candidates were the biggest difference-makers, as Daniel Sedin scored the game-tying goal and an assist while Henrik Sedin earned two primary helpers. Letang was productive on offense in his own right, scoring that SO goal and collecting two assists.

Cooke produces nice results in first game since suspension

Matt Cooke was the true headline-stealer, though, as he scored two goals to give the Penguins 2-0 and 3-1 leads before the Sedins took over. Cooke found the net thanks to a great behind-the-net pass by Pascal Dupuis and used a Canucks defender as a screen to foil Roberto Luongo on an odd angle shot to score shorthanded. (Marc-Andre Fleury let Luongo’s softy off the hook to an extent by allowing a strange one of his own for Maxim Lapierre’s 2-1 tally.)

It’s common to assign a ” … But he can actually play” qualifier to a good number of pests, but the description actually fits Cooke, even if his negative moments grossly outweigh his positive contributions in the eyes of most. Even with that praise in mind, it’s useful to note that he usually makes a difference on the penalty kill rather than on the scoreboard, so a two-goal night is a great treat for the Penguins.

Maybe a positive return from shame and a suspension could help Cooke turn the corner? The best reaction is to take the “Wait and see” approach to that situation, which is probably a wise strategy to take with all of the NHL’s season openers. Brian Engblom caught up with Cooke after the game.

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Both teams and their goalies experienced some rocky moments, but there were also uplifting ones. Neal showed a lot of burst after a tough second half of 201-11. Keith Ballard (of all people) scored a gorgeous goal thanks to a fantastic feed by Henrik Sedin. The Penguins started out strong on the road while the Canucks shook off a somewhat shaky start to earn a point in their home opener. The NHL’s elite find ways to make the best of less-than-spectacular nights and both teams showed glimpses of that potential on Oct. 6.

Five NHL team stats you may find interesting

Nashville Predators center Mike Fisher, right, celebrates after scoring against Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, center, and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4), of Sweden, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Oct. 14, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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14 — The number of shorthanded goals surrendered by the Chicago Blackhawks. Yes, this topic has been beaten to death already, but for good reason. The next highest number in the NHL is eight, courtesy the Calgary Flames. It’s just very unlike the ‘Hawks. Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson, two of the best defenders in the game, have been on the ice for nine PP goals against! Jonathan Toews, one of the best defensive forwards ever, hasn’t fared much better; he’s been on for seven.

9 — The number of power-play goals scored by the Nashville Predators. A pretty remarkable stat, especially considering the Preds have just two wins in their first five games. That kind of PP production can’t be counted on to continue, so they’d better improve at five-on-five. Also, avoid the soup in Detroit. It’ll getcha every time.

17 — The total number of goals scored in all five New Jersey Devils games. And in case you thought that was low, two of those goals came in overtime. So far, the highest-scoring game the Devils have experienced was a 3-2 loss in Tampa Bay, with each of the other four finishing with a score of 2-1. Average number of goals per game this season? Just 3.4.

7.4 — The average number of goals scored in an Ottawa Senators game. In other words, the Sens have a new coach, but not much has changed. Ottawa has played five games and has yet to give up fewer than three goals. Fun to watch, though.

-7.6 — The average shot differential for the Colorado Avalanche, who’ve still managed to win three of their first five. The Avs have only outshot one opponent so far, by just two shots in their season-opener against Dallas. In their last three games, they’ve been outshot by a combined margin of 105-62. To be fair, all three of those were on the road against tough teams, but lots of work left for Jared Bednar, too.

Boedker, San Jose’s big free agent signing, moves up to Thornton-Pavelski line

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 07:  Mikkel Boedker #89 of the San Jose Sharks watches from the bench during the preseason NHL game against Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 7, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 3-1  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Sharks didn’t make many offseason splashes after advancing to the first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history, but the one they did make — signing Mikkel Boedker — was fairly significant.

And now, the Sharks are looking to spark Boedker’s campaign.

The Danish speedster will be promoted to the top line next to Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski for tonight’s home date with Anaheim, per CSN Bay Area.

“[Boedker has] got to shoot the puck more…and he knows that,” head coach Peter DeBoer explained. “I’m not concerned about him, but the nice thing about playing with those two guys is they push you to go to the areas where you have to score.

“Hopefully that gets him going.”

One of the fastest skaters in the league, Boedker signed a four-year, $16 million deal with San Jose on the opening day of free agency. The hope was the 23-year-old would improve team speed and build upon an impressive ’15-16 campaign, in which he scored 17 goals and tied a career high with 51 points.

But things haven’t exactly gone according to plan yet — Boedker has one point in six games, and just four shots on goal.

The hope is he’ll enjoy a similar spike in production like the one Tomas Hertl had after getting promoted Thorton-Pavelski line in early January. Hertl responded with 11 points in 12 games that month, 10 in 16 games in March, and 11 in 20 playoff games.

Speaking of Hertl, he’ll drop down to center the third line — between Patrick Marleau and Melker Karlsson — for tonight’s contest.

After missing on Ducks gig, Richardson lands with Hockey Canada

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Luke Richardson, the former player and bench boss that interviewed for Anaheim’s vacant head coaching gig this summer, has caught on with Hockey Canada as an assistant coach for the upcoming Deutschland Cup, per the Ottawa Sun.

Richardson, 47, is considered to be a quality NHL coach-in-waiting.

A veteran d-man with over 1,400 games played in Toronto, Edmonton, Philly, Columbus, Tampa Bay and Ottawa, he’s since enjoyed success as both an assistant coach with the Sens, and as their bench boss in AHL Binghamton.

In his first year with Bingo, Richardson led the club to a 44-21-1-7 record. He was named the AHL’s Eastern Conference all-star coach in his second year.

Richardson’s been praised for his work developing young prospects. Upon departing the Sens organization this summer — he asked GM Pierre Dorion to be considered for the head coaching gig in Ottawa, but was turned down — the club noted that 13 of Richardson’s players were recalled from Binghamton last season.

Earlier, Richardson received accolades for his work with the likes of Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

Unsurprisingly, he’s been linked to a variety of NHL jobs.

Richardson was considered a frontrunner for the Sabres gig that eventually went to Dan Bylsma and, as mentioned above, was shortlisted and interviewed by Ducks GM Bob Murray to replace Bruce Boudreau (the job eventually went to Randy Carlyle).

“My confidence grew when I was with Binghamton and I have a plan about how to be successful in the NHL,” Richardson said, per the Sun. “But there are only 30 jobs and you’ve got to be patient.

“It’s unfortunate that if you do get a chance, it’s at somebody else’s expense, but I know that if I sign somewhere, I would immediately be on the clock, too.”

Taking a tourney gig with Hockey Canada has proven an effective way to break into — or, back into — NHL coaching. Guy Boucher led Canada at the 2014 and 2015 Spengler Cups, and subsequently scored the Sens gig this summer.

Stecher to make NHL debut for Canucks

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 09: Troy Stecher #2 of North Dakota skates against the Boston University Terriers during the third period of the 2015 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championship semifinals at TD Garden on April 9, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.The Boston Terriers defeat North Dakota 5-3.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It didn’t take long for the injury bug to bite the Vancouver Canucks again. Head coach Willie Desjardins announced this morning that forwards Alex Burrows and Derek Dorsett were expected to miss 7-10 days, each with undisclosed ailments, and that defenseman Chris Tanev was day-to-day after getting banged up Sunday in Anaheim.

Of the three injured players, Tanev has by far the biggest role. The 26-year-old typically logs 20 minutes on the top pairing with Alex Edler. Tonight against Ottawa, Tanev will be replaced by rookie Troy Stecher, who will be making his NHL debut.

Stecher, 22, signed with the Canucks in April after three years at the University of North Dakota. He had an impressive preseason but was sent down to AHL Utica to start the year.

“Playing with Edler, certainly he’s going to get some hard match-ups,” said Desjardins, who opted to keep his other two defensive pairings together. Vancouver’s second pairing is Ben Hutton with Erik Gudbranson, its third is Luca Sbisa with Philip Larsen.

Another former college star, Jayson Megna, will make his Canucks debut tonight, stepping in for Burrows on the fourth line.

As for Nikita Tryamkin, the big Russian d-man is expected to be a healthy scratch for the seventh time in seven games.

“He’s still on the program,” said Desjardins. “We’re still trying to get him to where we want him to be. He’s not quite there yet.”

Tryamkin, 22, has refused to accept an assignment to the AHL.