Penguins GM Ray Shero defends his team’s play; Don Cherry rips Mario Lemieux

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It’s a story with so many legs it’s hockey’s version of a millipede. The fallout from the Islanders-Penguins brawl last Friday that got Penguins owner Mario Lemieux to come out and deride the NHL for not hammering the Islanders harder for their role in sparking numerous fights in a virtual on-ice riot.

Lemieux’s statement on the matter has bothered many around the league and fans as well for his seemingly willful ignorance of who he employs on his own team in noted troublemaker and dirty player Matt Cooke. We discussed here the other night about how if Lemieux’s comments included the guys on his own team that his condemnation of the league would hold more water. Lemieux’s words had a side effect that he likely didn’t intend: Drawing attention to how his own team plays.

Penguins GM Ray Shero spoke with Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about his thoughts on what Lemieux had to say and the questions that have come up about how the Penguins carry themselves on the ice. Shero was very direct in how he spoke about things.

I want to be a blue-collar, hard-working hockey team. We’re not a dirty team. OK, Matt Cooke – everybody is saying, “How can you say this and have Matt Cooke?” He gets fined, suspended. In the (Columbus defenseman Fedor) Tyutin case, (Cooke) was talked to by me and the coach. I talked to him after the Savard hit.

Hard-working and aggressive (play) go into the same thing. From our hockey team’s standpoint, I think we play with honor. I really do.

Matt Cooke wasn’t about Friday night. Friday night was something different.

Shero is right about Friday night but he’s doing his best here to put as positive a spin on things as he can when it comes to deflecting talk away from Matt Cooke. The results and lack of change in Cooke’s game speak for itself, however.

As for playing with honor, you can debate that if you’d like to but with the Penguins leading the NHL in fighting majors so far this year, you can make the argument that they’re either really busy standing up for themselves against everyone or a wild pack of goons. Given what shook loose against the Islanders, you’d be hard pressed to argue against them standing up for themselves.

With Lemieux’s statements though, it’s not a full-blown media blitz  until Don Cherry gives his take on things, and after his appearance on the Fan590 in Toronto today, you can put Grapes fully on board with the Lemieux-bashing bandwagon.

“Anybody that has Matt Cooke on his payroll and doesn’t say anything (about) the action he does, is a hypocrite.”

Tell us how you really feel, Don.

Cherry isn’t alone in his stance, of course, but coming right out and putting it like that when he’s always been a proponent of tough, physical play shouldn’t be too shocking. After all this talk and sniping from executives and players alike isn’t solving anything and if nothing else, Lemieux’s public reaction to everything have served to do something he didn’t intend to. He’s unwillingly made the story about him as it is about the on-ice melee that erupted in Long Island.

Lemieux wanted this to be about making changes in the game for the better. Instead we’re busy talking about Matt Cooke and whether or not he’s self-aware. It’s unfortunate because what Mario said does have some merit, but being so drawn in by the elephant in the room in Cooke we can’t help but question Lemieux’s thoughts. It’s a sad cycle to have to go around when it’s all very clear what the Islanders did was wrong. Perhaps they’re getting by easy one more time.