Matt Cooke

Could Matt Cooke be the poster boy for player safety?


While it might be too soon to start engraving it on the Lady Byng trophy, the name “Matt Cooke” could soon be synonymous with gentlemanly conduct.

Yes, seriously.

That’s something Chris Johnston of the Canadian Press touched on in a piece discussing the NHL’s culture shift of player safety. Cooke, arguably the most active cheap-shot artists of our generation, has been suspended five times for illegal hits. Yet this year, he seems to have turned over a new leaf.

Cooke’s focus is on skill, not kill — he has 10 points in 17 games with a plus-3 rating — and perhaps most impressively, he’s recorded just four penalty minutes.

“For Brendan¬†Shanahan and player safety, here’s a guy that they can show on some highlights and the videos, where he’s not taking the hit or he is pulling up (in dangerous situations),” Penguins GM Ray Shero told Johnston. “He’s still got a ways to go. But in the first portion of the season here and exhibition as well, he has changed the way he’s played and he’s still a really good effective player for us in his role.

“That’s good news for us and it’s good news for Brendan¬†Shanahan in terms of what he’s trying to do.”

The turning point for Cooke was in March, when he got tagged for his fifth and most recent suspension following an elbow on the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh. That one cost him 10 regular-season games and the entire first round of the playoffs — 17 games all told. But after spending the offseason re-evaluating his game and watching 30 hours of video, Cooke seems to have figured out how to be an effective NHLer without maiming his peers. Which is nice.

“I like the player, I like the person and I think he has got something to add,” said Shero. “After the McDonagh incident he did a lot of self-examination with his family and what he wanted to be as a person and a father and a player.”

Cooke’s transformation could be seen as a microcosm of what Shanahan hopes to do with the NHL. A combination of stern punishment, video integration and emphasizing player respect went a long way in Cooke’s rehabilitation — the same things Shanahan is utilizing as the new discipline czar.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.