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Cooke dealing with Karlsson injury criticism

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Matt Cooke has taken a heavy barrage of criticism for his involvement in the injury sustained by Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson on Wednesday.

Cooke's left skate sliced Karlsson's left Achilles tendon during a puck battle along the boards, ending the reigning Norris Trophy winner's season. Karlsson underwent surgery Thursday and faces a lengthy rehabilitation period. Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and general manager Bryan Murray have expressed their displeasure with Cooke, whose disciplinary history makes leaves him vulnerable to such rebukes.

No penalty was called on the play, and the NHL Department of Player Safety saw no need to assess supplemental discipline.

Cooke expressed his regret about the incident Friday after the Penguins conducted their morning skate at MTS Centre. Cooke said he had reached out to Karlsson via a text message.

"Whether or not he responds to me, I understand," Cooke said. "At the end of the day, it was a freak, unfortunate accident and I can't control anything else but that. I obviously felt bad about the cut and just hope that he has a fast recovery. I know it's not fast, but as fast as possible."

Cooke also adopted a non-confrontational tone in regard to Melnyk's criticism and chose not to offer his feelings on the comments that have been directed toward him since the game Wednesday.

"Obviously, I'm sorry that Mr. Melnyk feels that way," Cooke said. "But I understand the position that he's in. It's not easy. I'm not one to judge whether it's unfair or not. People are entitled to their own opinions and they'll have their own, regardless of what I do.

"This is different than it was in the past for me. I know where my head is and how I feel about the play and that's what's most important."

Cooke's teammates have offered their full support.

"I think we all saw the play and know what happened and know that it was an accident," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "If you ask anyone that understands the game at all, they'll tell you that it's pretty hard to try to intentionally do what he did.

"Unfortunately, his past creeps in and people probably give him a hard time. He's really tried to clean up the way he plays, and I think he's done a pretty good job with that."

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma also expressed his regret over the situation.

"I feel the pain of the Senators and the injury to [a] great player in the game, a great player on their team," Bylsma said. "I think that if anyone understands an injury to a good player, we've had a number of them in the past few years, so I understand their pain and where they're coming from. It's unfortunate.

"As soon as I heard what happened to Erik, I felt for the Senators and for the game, because it's a great player. I agree with Bryan Murray, that you come to the game to watch this guy play. He's that good, and I feel their disappointment in some of their comments."

But while Cooke acknowledged that his past most likely will always follow him, Bylsma lamented that his player has not been able to rehabilitate his image successfully.

"There are people making comments who haven't really seen him play for the past two years," Bylsma said. "There is no question that he has made an adjustment. You can see it in his game. You can see it in numerous hits that he has had this year where he has adjusted. But I don't think that people really watch that closely, and [they] are eager to jump on and talk about previous history.

"There has definitely been a change in Matt's game, in the way that he approaches the game and the way that he hits in the game, and I think that if you've watched the past 100 games or so, it's evident. Having said that, it's interesting to see people who maybe haven't paid attention to that dragging up past history."

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