New York Hockey: Mario Lemieux

Milbury: Get Gillies out of NHL

March, 3, 2011
Somewhere in Pittsburgh, Penguins owner Mario Lemieux is typing out an e-mail to NHL commish Gary Bettman and league disciplinarian Collin Campbell titled "Told you so ... (SMH)" (Or perhaps, "Gillies gone Wild.")

Wednesday night New York Islanders LW Trevor Gillies returned to the ice for the first time following his nine-game suspension for targeting the head of Pittsburgh Penguins center Eric Tangradi. During his time off the ice, Gillies must have missed the lesson.

Early in the second period, Gillies retaliated for a questionable hit by Cal Clutterbuck on Justin DiBenedetto by checking the side of Clutterbuck's head into the glass. Clutterbuck was not exactly an innocent victim, hitting DiBenedetto from behind along the boards. Still, Gillies clearly aimed for the Wild forward's dome as he followed through with his check.

The media reaction on Versus was scathing, with analyst Keith Jones calling Gillies a "meat head" and former Islander GM Mike Milbury asking for Gillies' removal from the league. Here's a more detailed transcript via Chris Botta and the New York Times hockey blog:
"[The Islanders] have embarrassed themselves one time too many," [Milbury] added: "Garth Snow should be embarrassed for his team; so should Jack Capuano. They happen to be friends of mine. I hope they get it, and if they don’t get it, I hope the league gives it to them."

Later, Milbury said: "This guy is not a hockey player. Get him out of the league as soon as you can."

Since first being called up in the 2005-06 season by the Anaheim Ducks, the 32-year-old Gillies has one goal and 220 penalty minutes in 48 games.

Gillies' role on the Islanders is clear. He's an enforcer, and after watching Clutterbuck take some liberties with his teammate he did what he thought was the right thing and retaliated. But you can't try to take players' heads off.

Fighting is legal in the NHL. Clutterbuck has seven fighting majors over the past two seasons. I'm sure he would have dropped the gloves to settle the score honorably (particularly with his team trailing 3-0 and in search of a spark). Instead, Gillies faces an uncertain future. It would be stunning if the league doesn't further discipline him, particularly considering the emphasis put on concussions and head shots these days. Beyond this season, it's unclear if Gillies will suit up for anyone. His contract expires following the final game.

Matt Cooke: A love story

February, 14, 2011
I promise we'll stop after this, but the holier-than-thou comments from Mario Lemieux may have put a bit of a burr in the saddle of Islanders fans ... and, well, fans of anyone who plays the Penguins.

So in honor of Monday's holiday, we dug up an, um, anti-Valentine from Don Cherry to Matt Cooke. Summary: Not a fan.

As you may know, Cherry champions physicality (aka "truculence") rather frequently, but believes it also should adhere to some kind of code of conduct. In this clip, as a montage of rather dirty hits from Cooke rolls in the background, Cherry gives his rather pointed opinion of the pest, and also recounts an anecdote of a post-game meeting between the two. Take a look.

In case you want to take a closer look at some of that dubious highlight reel, here's some more research for you:

Cooke shatters Fedor Tyutin from behind.
Cooke scrambles Artem Anisimov's head.
Cooke knocks Marc Savard unconscious.
Cooke crosschecks Andrei Markov into the boards.
Cooke tries to ninja kick Chris Osgood in the face.
Cooke goes knee to knee on Erik Cole.
Cooke reenacts the above incident for (former teammate) Alex Ovechkin.

Now, Mario, about the state of the league? Yeah ...

With those images fresh in your mind, it's probably no wonder why Evander Kane made a lot of folks smile last April.

Can't you just feel the love?

Those in glass Igloos ...

February, 14, 2011
Matt Cooke isn't exactly a paragon of virtue.

By now you've likely heard about Mario Lemieux's reaction to the foil-rich, brawl-tastic game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins last Friday.

Via a statement issued Sunday, Lemieux griped to the media that, "If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to rethink whether I want to be a part of it."

While the actions of Matt Martin -- who sucker-punched Maxime Talbot -- and Trevor Gillies -- who flattened Eric Tangradi with an elbow before throwing several punches -- aren't particularly defensible, Lemieux may want to look to his own pond to gauge the "state of the league."

Over the past three seasons, the Penguins' have taken a steadily increasing number of major penalties. Last season, their 51 major infractions ranked them 17th in the NHL. But that number has ballooned to 63 through Feb. 14, by far the most in the NHL. (The Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues are tied for the second most with 56.)

Granted there's some context lacking there. Since a fighting major is applied regardless of who starts the fracas, the Pens could have just been responding when their opponents dropped the gloves. Still, it takes two partners to dance.

There's also the rather hypocritical matter of Lemieux's continued employment of one Matt Cooke. Cooke has been suspended in each of the past three seasons -- twice for checking a player in the head (2008-09: Scott Walker of the Carolina Hurricanes; 2009-10: Artem Anisimov of the New York Rangers) and most recently for annihilating Fedor Tyutin of the Columbus Blue Jackets from behind on Feb. 9.

What's ironic about those incidents? Well, the Pens and captain Sidney Crosby have been railing against the NHL for the lack of protection the NHL gives its players, particularly concerning concussions. Meanwhile, Cooke is cashing Lemieux's checks while targeting player's skulls. His hit on Tyutin (video) was far, far worse than the hit by Victor Hedman (video) that may have caused -- or worsened -- Crosby's concussion. (For the record, Hedman was not suspended for his hit.)

Pot, kettle, Penguins ... you see where I'm going with this.

Lemieux isn't wrong to complain about the NHL needing to do a better job protecting its players. It does. In fact, head shots of all kinds should be banned. (A concussion from the blindside or the front is still a concussion.) But the punishment meted out by the NHL this weekend is not the problem. The repeated antics (Marc Savard says, "hi") by players like Matt Cooke are.

And don't expect much sympathy for Lemieux on this one within the NHL. From this morning's edition of NHL Rumor Central, one league governor told Sportsnet's John Shannon: "If Mario would like to change the game, maybe he should show up at the meetings."

Rapid Reaction: Rangers 5, Penguins 3

February, 13, 2011

Recap | Box score | Photos

What It Means

With the win, the Rangers ended their longest losing skid since December of 2006 and aptly ended an abysmal weekend in New York for the Pittsburgh Penguins. After giving up two late third-period goals that cost them two points in the standings against Atlanta Friday night, Sunday’s rally showed the type of resolve that has defined the Rangers’ season. They currently sit seventh in the East with 64 points, four ahead of Atlanta and the Carolina Hurricanes.

Escape From New York

The Penguins have to be happy this weekend is over. After a brawl-filled 9-3 debacle on Long Island Friday and an accident involving their team bus on Saturday -- one that sent the pad-clad Pens into a bunch of NYC taxis -- this was a weekend to forget. When Pittsburgh took the ice, you didn’t just need a program to identify the team in white, you needed an appendix from their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as well. The Pens’ Sunday roster featured five players with 10 games or fewer in the NHL this season.

Don’t Blink

If you like scoring, you loved this game. The first 10 minutes featured four goals, the first two going to a fired-up Penguins team determined to end their embarrassing weekend. But the next five went to the boys in blue.

Trailing 2-0 and after a timeout from John Tortorella, Brian Boyle got the Rangers back on track with a textbook series in the Penguins’ zone. After winning the faceoff back to Marc Staal, Boyle drove the net and deflected a slapshot from Staal between the pads of G Marc-Andre Fleury to stop the bleeding and give the Rangers some much-needed confidence.

The Blueshirts then evened the ledger with a PP goal from Ryan Callahan when the RW deflected home a shot from Daniel Girardi at roughly the 9:30 mark.

Setting The Tone

The timeout by Tortorella after the Rangers fell behind 2-0 was particularly notable. In the midst of a six-game skid and immediately yielding the first two goals Sunday, the characteristically fiery Blueshirts bench boss did not light into his team. Instead he seemed to speak calmly to try to relax his squad after a jittery start. The team followed his lead and, after Boyle’s goal, really ignited.

Getting Offensive

The Rangers made it three unanswered goals to take a 3-2 lead just two minutes into the second, tapping home a cross-crease pass from Brandon Dubinsky. Another PP goal by Callahan upped the margin to 4-2, marking just the second game since Dec. 27 the Rangers had scored more than three goals in a game. It was also the first time the Blueshirts bettered the two-goal barrier since Feb. 1 when the Pens downed the Rangers 4-3 in a shootout. Artem Anisimov pushed it to 5-2 with the Rangers' third PPG of the game, a season high for what had been an absolutely dormant unit lately.

Where’s Wolski?

Wojtek Wolski looked like he strained a groin muscle near the end of the first period and after giving it a go in the second was not on the Rangers bench to start the third. In all he played 8:23 Sunday and we’ll wait for word on his injury.

What’s Next

The Los Angeles Kings, themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt in the Western Conference, come to MSG Thursday for a 7 p.m. tilt. The Rangers have just one more game against the Penguins, March 20 in Pittsburgh.