Matt Cooke’s dirty hit on Fedor Tyutin: Poor excuses and time for the NHL to take a stand

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By now we all know what Matt Cooke’s M.O. is when he’s on the ice. He’s going to stir things up by being physical. He’s going to be in your face and chances are a scrum is going to develop thanks to his mere presence on the ice.

Last night against Columbus, Cooke wasn’t in anyone’s face but instead was burying himself between the numbers on Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin. Cooke received a five-minute major for charging Tyutin in the first period when he ran Tyutin from behind into the boards skating at full speed from a distance out to do it. (See video of the hit here on YouTube)

After the hit, Derick Brassard grabbed Cooke to fight him and the two threw down giving Cooke another five minutes for the scrap. Despite the dirty hit being both a textbook definition of charging and boarding, he got to stay in the game. When the interested parties were asked about the hit after the game, the battle lines were drawn in support of their own case as Tom Reed of The Columbus Dispatch gathered.

The Blue Jackets were understandably outraged.

“It was the worst hit I’ve ever had from behind,” said Tyutin, who did not miss a shift. “I wasn’t surprised not when you see (Cooke) in the highlights all the time for dirty hits.”

Jackets alternate captain R.J. Umberger also addressed the hit that occurred behind his team’s net at 14:42. “I thought it was blatant from behind. He had plenty of time to slow down.”

The Penguins, meanwhile, offered up some excuses that if offered up in a court case would lead to public outrage.

“(Tyutin) makes sure that he keeps his numbers (on the back of the jersey) toward him,” Bylsma said. “Matt Cooke did hit him there and sent him into the boards.”

Cooke also blamed the victim.

“It used to be you were responsible for yourself if you turned, but that’s not the way anymore,” Cooke told the Post-Gazette. “That call’s been called on us four or five times this year. It’s the same thing.

“He turns and looks and sees me coming. The other defenseman is slowing me down, so I’m not skating full speed at him.”

We don’t know who or what exactly Tyutin was looking at when he peered over his shoulder heading into the corner, but for Bylsma and Cooke to both blame Tyutin for getting obliterated from behind is ludicrous. Seeing a guy’s numbers when you’re going into the corner means you don’t hit the player from behind as he’s not looking. That’s never been OK to do and it’s certainly not legal to do in the NHL’s mind. To essentially say that Tyutin was asking for it is infuriating criminal logic and wrong.

If you think you’re alone in believing that Cooke’s intent was malicious, Jeremy Roenick sounded off in a big way this morning on XM Home Ice. Roenick said Cooke was “chickens–t” for hitting Tyutin like that and that he should be suspended for 20 games. When a guy’s game is able to push buttons like this both on and off the ice he’s either really good at his job or a problem child out of control. Count us in on the latter when it comes to Matt Cooke.

The NHL is meeting Cooke on Thursday over the phone to discuss a possible suspension for the hit and this time, after so many instances in the past when dealing with a problem player, and that’s exactly what Cooke is now after the Savard incident and after his knee-on-knee hit with Alex Ovechkin just on Sunday, a clear message has to be sent that constant malicious behavior cannot be tolerated anymore. In this case, giving Cooke a “lifetime achievement” type of suspension that sends the message that they won’t stand for intentionally evil hits like these are not part of the NHL would do a world of good.

Matt Cooke is already a pariah after his disgusting hit on Marc Savard last season that for all intents and purposes has ruined his career, making him an example for the rest of the league that carrying yourself without respect for one another on the ice would go over well in every city except Pittsburgh. Many Penguins fans blindly take up for Cooke’s case and have even fabricated their beliefs rallying behind Bylsma’s take on things, but even a nice guy like Bylsma who has to stick up for his players in the darkest of moments has to be wondering what possesses Cooke to consistently do things like this to put his team in danger.

Whether the league comes down hard on Cooke or not (and we’re suspecting they won’t if the past has taught us anything) we’re hoping the point that this brand of disgusting and reckless play can be put to an end. Playing physical and finishing your check is fine and a great part of hockey. When going out of your way to attempt to injure players to do so is when it all goes wrong. If the NHL wants to send that message and give Cooke a stiff punishment, we’re all for it. A fine or a slap on the wrist courtesy suspension isn’t going to cut it anymore.

NASCAR champ Martin Truex Jr. goes between the benches on Wednesday Night Hockey

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One thing hockey and NASCAR have in common is speed.

Martin Truex Jr. knows a thing or two about going fast, and he saw similarities in the pace of both sports when he joined NBCSN’s broadcast of the Philadelphia Flyers and visiting Boston Bruins on Wednesday Night Hockey.

“These guys go with everything they have every single minute of the game,” Truex said. “We have to do the same. When they’re on the ice, they’re going wide-open all day, and that’s kind of how we do it.”

The 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champ is gearing up for the 2019 Daytona 500 on Feb. 17 on a new team after making the switch to Joe Gibbs Racing during the offseason following five years with Furniture Row Racing.

But on Wednesday, he was between the glass in Philly with NBCSN’s Brian Boucher.

Truex watched the two teams warming up prior to puck drop. His goal?

“Just to see how close I can get to the puck without it actually hitting me would be a good start,” Truex said, smiling. “Just to see the size and the speed of these guys is going to be insane up close.”

As to who he was rooting for, the Philadelphia-area native was clear.

“Flyers all the way,” he said.

Truex got a good taste of what today’s NHL is all about: goal-scoring.

The Bruins and Flyers combined for three goals in the first period.

“I feel like this is a NASCAR race,” Truex said 15 minutes into the period. “It’s so intense. You got to be here to see it in person. TV is awesome, but when you get down here by this ice, it’s amazing what these guys are doing. NASCAR fans would say the same thing about racing all of the time.”

Truex was especially impressed by the goaltenders, who saw a combined 19 shots in the period.

MORE: 2019 NASCAR schedule on NBC and NBCSN 


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

Surging Sergachev gives loaded Lightning yet another weapon

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The Tampa Bay Lightning are so far ahead of the rest of the NHL, it’s almost insulting, and the scary part is that we might not have seen this team at its best.

Or, at least, there’s mounting evidence that the Bolts are uncommonly well-suited if injuries or other curveballs head their way.

Such a thought comes to mind – and maybe puts a damper on trade deadline daydreaming for other teams – when you see Mikhail Sergachev starting to heat up.

Overall, it’s been a slightly disappointing season for the 20-year-old, at least as far as counting stats go. Last season, Sergachev inspired a ton of “Sergachev has x points compared to Jonathan Drouin” comments on his way to 40 points in 79 games despite averaging just 15:22 TOI. This season, those jokes have dried up (Drouin’s at 35 already), as the Russian defenseman’s been limited to 18 points.

But things are really coming around lately.

With a goal in Tuesday’s 2-0 win against the Stars, Sergachev now has five points (two goals, three assists) in his last five games. He also has six in his past seven.

That’s obviously a small sample size, but it’s remarkable just how much swagger you can see in Sergachev’s game. Consider this goal from Jan. 12, when Sergachev made a saucy fake-slapper before setting up an Ondrej Palat tally:

Sergachev is being bold, and good things are happening when he’s being bold:

Maybe just as importantly, Sergachev is clearly gaining the trust of Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. Consider what he said on Jan. 12, via Joe Smith of The Athletic (sub required):

“It’s night and day from last year to this year,” coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s funny, he pointed a lot last year and was scoring goals. But there was so much about the game he had to learn, whether it was at the defensive end, where you’re supposed to be, and he’s done a great job this year. Last year, you had to dress seven ‘D’ to manage his minutes, there’s no need to do that anymore.”

Here’s a wild assumption: maybe Cooper needed that time as much as Sergachev did?

Cooper gives off the vibe of one of the NHL’s more progressive head coaches, yet he also struggled with the risk/reward part of Drouin’s game, and a lot of coaches tend to fixate on mistakes made by young players while letting similar mistakes go when it comes to veterans.

After all, Sergachev’s possession numbers were quite impressive last season, too — to the point that it was almost a little frustrating to see the Lightning struggle against, say, the Capitals and not loosen Sergachev’s leash a bit.

Either way, there’s no denying that Sergachev is more trusted. After starting a lopsided 70.2-percent of his shifts in the offensive zone in 2017-18, he’s down to a still-offense-leaning but more reasonable 54.3 percent this season, and he’s still a strong possession player, even relative to his talented teammates.

The Lightning should really see how far they can push things with Sergachev, actually.

With such a robust lead in the East, this should be a great opportunity for Cooper to experiment with different lineup combinations.

From a handedness perspective, it would likely irk Cooper to pair Sergachev with fellow left-handed shot Victor Hedman, but then again, would the end result still be more effective than limited, veteran RHD Dan Girardi? If RHD Anton Stralman has lost one too many steps, could Sergachev instead make for an upgrade alongside Tampa Bay’s other standout LHD, Ryan McDonagh?

Heck, would the Lightning’s already-deadly power play be even scarier if it bucked 4F/1D trends and went with Sergachev and Hedman on the top unit, instead of Sergachev on the second PP?

It’s perfectly plausible that the Lightning have already found all the correct answers in their current alignments, but what better time to experiment than now, when you have that buffer — yet you may never be in a better position to win a Stanley Cup with this core?

(After all, re-signing Brayden Point won’t be cheap, while Sergachev and Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s will be slated for substantial raises after 2019-20.)

Some of these factors present challenges for the Lightning, but if Sergachev’s growth and other factors tip toward Tampa Bay, this already-formidable team could be that much more terrifying.

That thought is almost as scary as trying to stop Sergachev when he’s improvising in the offensive zone.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL, NHLPA agree to no World Cup in 2020

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The World Cup of Hockey will not happen in 2020, but that doesn’t mean the popular tournament is dead in the water.

That is the message from both the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association late Wednesday.

Both entities released statements stating each party’s agreement that a World Cup of Hockey in 2020 would be unrealistic to schedule.

“The players are focused on finding the proper time to schedule the World Cup of Hockey within the context of an overall international hockey calendar,” a statement from the NHLPA read. “While we and the league have discussed the possibility of holding the next World Cup in September 2020, we jointly concluded that it is unrealistic to expect that preparations for the vent would be completed in that time.”

The NHL’s statement said that both parties held constructive meetings in Toronto on Wednesday.

The NHL’s statement echoed that of the NHLPA and say both parties “plan to continue their dialogue with the hope of being able to schedules the next World Cup event as part of a broader agreement, which would include a long-term international event calendar.”

[Related: NHL and NHLPA meet to discuss CBA, World Cup of Hockey]

Looming large over all of this is the current collective bargaining agreement, which is in place until 2022 unless one side elects to terminate it. That early window to opt out of the current arrangement opens on Sept. 1, 2019, for the NHL and Sept. 15, 2019, for the NHLPA.

The thought is that, if the World Cup in 2020 had gone forward, it would have signified some semblance of peace between the NHL and the NHLPA in terms of labor talks. The fear here, then, is that both sides aren’t close enough to an agreement.

The flip side is that the World Cup is a massive event that would take much planning and coordinating to get sorted in a year-and-a-half.

For now, it seems like both sides are looking in the same direction, together. That’s a positive sign as no one wants lost hockey in any form. Delaying the World Cup is worth it if harmony (and a new CBA) sans a work stoppage is the end result.


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: Flyers take on Bruins on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Flyers poured in seven goals in a 7-4 win over Minnesota. Philly has won two of its last three games, but remains in the basement of the Metropolitan Division. James van Riemsdyk led the way on Monday with his fourth career hat trick, his second in a Flyers uniform, with the previous instance coming in March of 2011.

The Flyers used a five-forward power play against Minnesota Tuesday night, as the first unit consisted of Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, James van Riemsdyk, Sean Couturier, and Jake Voracek. van Riemsdyk scored his first of three goals on the night in the first period on the man advantage, which went just 1-for-5 overall in the game.

“The responsibilities are the same. It just gives you a different look as you come down the boards,” said Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon. “I think if you can get one (power play goal) per game, now all of a sudden, instead of a two-goal team per-game average, you’re at a three-goal team average, and when you don’t get that goal, it looks like your team is really struggling. Obviously, we’ve had our fair share of missed opportunities.”

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy did not mince words after Monday’s overtime loss to Montreal in calling out David Backes and Jake DeBrusk, who were demoted from the second line (centered by David Krejci, who has scored in three straight games) to the third line against the Canadiens. The 34-year-old Backes, who will be a healthy scratch vs. the Flyers, has struggled to match the speed of opponents this season.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Boston Bruins at Philadelphia Flyers
Where: Wells Fargo Center
When: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Bruins-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BRUINS
Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak
Peter Cehlarik – David Krejci – Jake DeBrusk
Sean KuralyNoel AcciariChris Wagner
Danton HeinenJakob Forsbacka KarlssonRyan Donato

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy
Torey KrugBrandon Carlo
Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller

Starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak

FLYERS
James van Riemsdyk – Claude Giroux – Travis Konecny
Oskar Lindblom – Sean Couturier – Jakub Voracek
Scott LaughtonNolan Patrick – Wayne Simmonds
Michael RafflPhilip VaroneJori Lehtera

Ivan ProvorovTravis Sanheim
Shayne GostisbehereAndrew MacDonald
Robert HaggRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

John Forslund (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk, and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa.