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.
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.
Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”
Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).
Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.
Read more about his rise here.
In his fifth NHL game, intriguing Washington Capitals prospect Jakub Vrana scored his first NHL goal (and point).
Let’s be honest, though; Evgeny Kuznetsov deserves plenty of the credit, as he sent a fantastic pass for Vrana’s tap-in tally.
See it for yourself:
Even if that was mostly Kuznetsov, Vrana has been getting his chances so far.
He generated four shots on goal in two separate occasions so far in his four games of NHL action, so maybe he was due for a chance like this.
Considering he’s just 20 years old, the Capitals could get used to Kuznetsov to Vrana.
Update: The Capitals won 4-1, and Vrana’s first goal wasn’t the only noteworthy “first.” After piling on shots, John Carlson finally scored his first goal of the season:
No one’s going to confuse Dmitry Kulikov with Jack Eichel, but the Buffalo Sabres are likely happy to have him back after a long absence, too.
The Sabres have been on an upward trend lately (5-2-2 in their last nine games), and now they get a key defenseman back against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.
Kulikov last played on Nov. 9 and hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games, making for a tough start to his stint with the Sabres. Maybe he’ll begin to get a little more traction with his new team tonight?
He’s far from the only returning Buffalo player, either, as Josh Gorges and Nicolas Deslauriers are also back in the mix. Kulikov is slated to be on the Sabres’ second pairing with Cody Franson.
Buffalo sent Brendan Guhle to the AHL to make room for these tweaks.
The Columbus Blue Jackets will be without captain Nick Foligno because of an illness on Friday, opening up an opportunity for interesting prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand.
The team tweeted out his linemates as Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak as a solid fourth line facing the Detroit Red Wings.
He failed to generate much (zero points, two shots on goal) in three games so far with Columbus this season, receiving about 25 minutes of ice time over that span.
With eight goals and 12 points in 19 AHL games so far in 2016-17, there’s the thought that he could eventually make the next step to becoming a decent contributor for the Blue Jackets.
Perhaps this will constitute his first real step in that direction?
Apparently this is a pretty abrupt situation for the 21-year-old: