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Cooke's Presence Helps Spark Quick Start

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
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Matt Cooke has long been known for pestering the opposition. It’s been that way since he broke into the league with the Vancouver Canucks back in the 1998-99 campaign. But since arriving in Pittsburgh he has shown that his game is more than getting under the skin of his opponents.


In addition to his role as one of the top penalty killers on the Penguins’ roster, Cooke has settled nicely on a line with Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy.

“Right from the point where we were put together last year, we felt like we jelled and played well together,” said Cooke of his chemistry with Staal and Kennedy. “Staalsy and I have been penalty killing together for the better part of a year now, so we have a pretty good familiarity out on the ice.”

That chemistry has picked up right where it left off in the 2009-10 season, as the trio has accounted for two points, 19 shots on goal and a plus-3 rating through the first two contests.

A major reason for the line’s early success is the in-your-face-style Cooke brings to the rink.

When asked to describe Cooke’s early season play, linemate Staal replied: “Cookie has had a great start. He is skating real well and making great plays. He is playing smart. He is always a spark to our team with big hits that get the team going.”

Kennedy also had a positive outlook on the early play of the team’s shutdown line.

“We are doing pretty well,” Kennedy said. “I thought we skated well and moved the puck. We are pretty good at communicating and that helps out there.”
 
Cooke made a great play when Kennedy scored the eventual game-winning goal in the season-opening victory over the New York Rangers as he drove to the net and provided a screen on Henrik Lundqvist, preventing the Swedish netminder from getting a good look at a right-point shot from Alex Goligoski that was tipped home by Kennedy in the high slot.

One night later against the New York Islanders, Cooke and his linemates continued their strong play with Cooke tying for the team lead with six shots on goal.

“Usually if I get six, I’m hoping one goes in the net,” Cooke remarked after practice on Monday at Mellon Arena. “I hope it’s just a matter of time before those start going in.”

Those pucks should start going for Cooke, who last season scored 13 goals and added 18 assists in his first year with the Penguins after splitting the previous season between Vancouver and Washington. Cooke has scored into double digits in each of his past seven full seasons, and the one season he did not, he still scored eight times in only 45 games in 2005-06 for the Canucks.

As mentioned, Cooke is also a valuable member of the Penguins’ penalty killing unit, and was a huge reason the Penguins were able to kill off all four Rangers power-play attempts Friday night.
 
Cooke said his contributions when his team is shorthanded can be more important than when playing five-on-five.

“I think more importantly for me, I have to make sure our penalty kill is at the top of the league. I just want to help this team be successful in any way I can.”

The Penguins were successful on both nights during their season-opening weekend. Despite that, Cooke wants to see himself and the other players in the dressing room take their game up another notch when the Phoenix Coyotes visit Mellon Arena Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m.

“I don’t think we are completely happy with where we are at yet,” Cooke said. “We had a good game against the Rangers, I felt, but we still had a couple breakdowns. I understand it is the start of the season and back-to-back (games).

“We came out strong in the third period on Long Island, but I know we have better. We expect more from ourselves.”

While Cooke expects a lot out more out of the team, which can be a tall order when you consider they are 2-0 and carried the play for long stretches at a time each night, he tries to keep personal expectations a little more modest.

“You always want to improve and get better,” Cooke said when asked what kind of numbers he is aiming for this season. “You’d like your numbers to go up every year.”

Based upon the number of chances he, Staal and Kennedy have created through two games, Cooke appears poised to have a chance to build off the statistics he posted in 2008-09. Staal certainly agreed with that assessment.

“It’s been two games but T.K. has one (goal) under his belt and I’ve had a few chances,” Staal said. “We like to play in their end and create offensive chances. The more we do that, the more we will score.”



 

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