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

Feb 15, 2011, 2:59 PM EDT

Ray Shero AP

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.

  1. abrienza428 - Feb 15, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    Cooke has had many borderline and dirty hits. There’s no denying it, and he’s been suspended for it.

    What the Islanders did IS different. If Talbot is seriously injured, it’s eerily similar to the Bertuzzi/Moore incident. Fortunately, Talbot was able to defend himself at the last millisecond. And Gillies punching and taunting Tangradi after he injured him, come on. That is assault that is not in the context of a hockey game.

    Hits from behind/knees/blindside headshots should be prevented as well, and Cooke falls into a category of players who need that message most. Mario spoke up with the right message, but it’s unfortunate timing with the Cooke suspension.

    • stakex - Feb 15, 2011 at 5:09 PM

      Your right, what Gillies did was terrible… and he was suspended for 9 games for it. That 9 games more then covers his blind side hit, as well as throwing punches afterwards. Like it or not, sitting there taunting another player whos on the ice doesn’t hurt anyone, and thus wouldn’t warent any sort of long suspension, if a suspension at all. And as you point out, Talbot wasn’t injured on the play. Getting a 4 game suspension on a play in which you didn’t actually hurt anyone is pretty damn stiff to be honest. I know some said there should have been a 10, 20, 30 game suspension for that…. but thats REALLY unreasonable. So IMO the NHL was about as stiff as it could have been with the suspensions and I fail to see what more Cryba…, oh sorry, Mario wanted them to do about it.

      And its not just “bad timing” with Cooke being suspended. Its general hypocricy with the way Cooke (and the Pens in general) has played over the years. Where was Mario to say the NHL should have suspended Cooke last year when he INTENTIONALY took a shot at Savards head and likely ended his career? Not a peep to the public about how the league needed strong penelties for that… and in fact he ended up giving Cooke a new contract. Its easy for Mario to say “Yeah, I talk to him when he does idiotic things…”, but yet he has stood behind him with 100% unwaivering support when it comes to the public. Then your going to have the balls to complain about how dirty another team is? Give me a break.

      I really wish mario would in fact consider his place in the game, and decide to leave. He was a great player and all, but he was also a huge crybaby when he use to play (much like Cindy Crysby in fact), and now hes showing he hasn’t lost that touch. Do the hockey world a favor and leave it……..

      • ihateannouncers - Feb 17, 2011 at 4:37 AM

        So if Savard wasn’t hurt when hit by Cooke last year, then by your logic Cooke wouldn’t have deserved a suspension?? If you take away your hate for the Penguins and just look at this objectively, you would realize that Martin was suspended for his obvious intent to injure a player by hitting him in the head from behind. The fact that he missed Talbot on the suckerpunch has nothing to do with the suspension. And where exactly is this ‘100% unwaivering public support’ that Lemieux has given Matt Cooke? Is it the fact that the PENGUINS extended Cookes contract? Lemieux has never said anything public about the game / players until the Isles garbage obviously gave him motivation to speak out. Honestly, if Cooke / Crosby / Lemieux were on your team, would you hate them as much?? I didn’t think so.

    • justinshea - Feb 17, 2011 at 8:45 AM

      It’s funny how the Islanders got fined $100K for “not controlling the team” or “pre-meditated revenge” and are the ones getting blasted by the pundits and casual fans who did not even see the game or have one iota of understanding of the context of events. It takes two to tango…the second fight of the night was on the first shift after the Islanders scored to make it 3-0…Gee, I wonder who put Godard out there right after the Islanders goal? The same guy who couldn’t keep Godard from leaving the bench. “Pre-meditated” and not “controlling the team”? Looks like the NHL got the fine wrong. Onto the the Martin on Talbot play…nothing like the Bertuzzi incident. Bertuzzi tackled an unsuspecting player from behind. If you look at the ENTIRE play on Talbot you will notice that it really starts about 5 seconds before the turtle takes place. While the pens are forechecking and the isles were breaking out, Talbot curled behind the isles net to start the back-check. While he did so he slashed Kosikinen then, as the play developed Martin followed along side Talbot up the Ice from about the pens hash marks to center ice. Martin was alongside Talbot who knew he was there the whole time because Martin was chirpin at him and challenging him to answer the bell the whole time. Talbot would not fight Martin just like he would not fight Comeau after he concussed him with a hit from behind in the previous Isles/Pens game. If he fought Comeau this would never have happened. Talbot wouldn’t even fight a guy with a concussion that he was responsible for causing with a dirty hit. Had he fought Comeau, much of what bolied over on Friday would not have happened. Contrary to popular belief, the Isles felt the need to police things on the ice because they have been the target of too many dirty hits and chippy play that the refs and Coli seem to ignore. This had very little to do with the Johnson/DiPietro fight. Back to Martin and Talbot, when Talbot ignored Martin’s call to take responsibility for his actions, Martin lost his patience and made a mistake. BUT, he did not tackle someone from behind like Bertuzzi and Talbot knew Martin was there unlike Moore. All Martin did was grab Talbot’s jersey. And since Talbot knew Martin was there the whole time what did he do? He dropped to the ice right away and turtled. Once he was turtling Martin tried to punch him. Again, a mistake, but, how can a player be defenseless if he is turtling? Onto Gilles, indefensible. But, believe it or not, he is a first time offender. So, first time offender = 9 games and Matt Cooke = 4 games. Now Mario, Hypocritical and like. His team got a taste of it’s own medicine so he took his ball and threatened to go home. In conclusion: the NHL justice system and on ice officiating has a double standard; the ignorant pundits have given the Isles an unfair shake; Maxime Talbot is a huge beatch.

      • ihateannouncers - Feb 17, 2011 at 7:06 PM

        Anyone who watched the previous game between the Pens and Isles knew the game friday was going to be rough, and expected retaliation on Talbot for his hit on Comeau which was just after Comeau cleared the puck from the side,NOT to the head, NOT penalized and NOT dirty. Comeau finished the rest of the game and certainly nobody including his own coaching staff knew he had a concussion. Why would Talbot get drawn in to a fight when the score was only 2-0 in the first game?? He is smarter than that. I’m also not sure how you compare playing Goddard during a shift in a game that was quickly getting out of hand, to bringing up a goon (Haley) and sending him after Talbot and Johnson. IF you watched both games and you know as much about hockey as you claim then you certainly can see why Bylsma would put Goddard on the ice to help defend what we all knew was coming. Just because Martin was chirping at Talbot and couldn’t get him to fight doesn’t allow him to throw a sucker punch from behind. Talbot felt Martin grab him, knew what was coming, then went down to protect himself AND draw a penalty. Seems to me ignorance is a two way street. The Isles got what they deserved.

      • justinshea - Feb 18, 2011 at 1:21 PM

        “you certainly can see why Bylsma would put Goddard on the ice to help defend what we all knew was coming.”
        My point is that Blysma made a decision to put Goddard out after the goal made it 3-0. Since the pens were the away team, and the Isles had just scored, it was Blysma’s call to roll out the Godard line for the ensuing faceoff w/o knowing who the Isles coach was throwing out there. When a coach throws out the fourth line to take a faceoff after a goal is scored to put his team down 3-0 not even half way through the first it is for one reason only. My only point was that the Pens coach and bench was just as complicit in everything that went down on Friday and. My other point was that things happened way more in the flow of the game and less pre-meditated then people are giving credit for. I mean, it was 6-0 before things really got out of hand. If things were pre-meditated there would have been a ruckus from the first drop of the puck. And, the fine only going to the Isles organization was the epitome of the NHLs double standard of justice. Not to mention that Godard leaving the bench is supposedly grounds for an automatic fine to the coach.
        And, contrary to what the Pens announcers (homers like no others) may have you believing, Talbot’s hit on Comeau was clearly from behind not the side and, even if it was not technically illegal, it was dirty. And when guys want to play on that edge there is a decorum in the NHL that says they should be backing it up with a willingness to drop the mits. Talbot is a beatch guy, there’s just no way around it. Now, why don’t you take your ball like Mario did and go home…

      • ihateannouncers - Feb 19, 2011 at 1:02 PM

        Yeah and putting goon Haley out in the first few shifts (roughing at 2:37 / fighting at 10:22) isn’t for a reason?? Bylsma knew what was coming. They were playing the laughingstock of the league who were embarrassed by a goalie fight, were looking to take their frustration out on the team who publicly humiliated them a week prior and who just went up 3-0. Which by the way was with about 2 minutes left in the first , NOT “half way through the first” as you stated to try to make your “point”. So putting Goddard out after that goal does send a message..we know what you are going to do, so your going to have to do it against our best fighters. To compare that to the garbage the Isles players (haley,gilles,martin, etc) were pulling, which as you are aware is a tone that is set by the coaching staff BEFORE the game, is ridiculous. The league watched the game, saw the overboard retaliation attempts and acted accordingly. THATS why Bylsma didn’t get suspended and the Penguins didn’t get fined. Not because of your double standard conspiracy theory. You are right on one point, Talbots was legal!! The rest of your argument is just Penguin hating spin. I will take my FACTS and go home…

  2. psousa1 - Feb 15, 2011 at 4:07 PM

    Fighting? He’s bitching about fighting? It’s been in the game for 85 years. Someone getting seriously hurt in a fight is a needle in a haystack. How about Marc Savard. He may never play again. He got cheap shotted by Penguin Matt Cook last year and received another concussion this year (which if he didn’t get cheap shotted last year, the effects wouldn’t be as dire). Where was super Mario then?

    F U Lemieux. Take your stick and puck and go home as you are threatening to do.

    • ihateannouncers - Feb 17, 2011 at 4:20 AM

      Where exactly did you hear / read about Lemieux ‘bitching about fighting’??? His comment did not say ANYTHING about fighting. Please let the rest of us know where he ‘bitched’ about fighting so we can read it.

  3. derpdederpdederp - Feb 15, 2011 at 4:49 PM

    i have all the respect in the world for lemieux, hes my favourite player of all time, but there was no need for his comments. only one of his players was suspended, and that was an automatic 10-gamer for leaving the bench. the NHL dealt with the Isles players reasonably. 9 games and 4 games for their role sounds about right. fighting is part of hockey, and while brawling is rarer, it is still part of hockey. that being said, the nhl is in a very sad state. it has not been effective in eliminating headshots but instead has resulted in more and more useless penalties being called because referees are worried about being reprimanded by the NHL if they dont make enough calls. we are seeing good clean checks resulting in roughing penalties, ejections, and even suspensions. hitting is part of the game, but unfortuantely by trying to crack down on headshot we are seeing all types of hitting being penalized. in a word, post-lockout hockey sucks

  4. derpdederpdederp - Feb 15, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    time to send gary bettman packing. 2 lockout on his watch and a complete inability to deal with headshots effectively. usually when people show they are incapable of doing their job they get fired. time to go gary

  5. bigbear42 - Feb 15, 2011 at 7:57 PM

    Don Cherry is a blithering idiot, not just because of these comments but from everything he says. It’s a shame he is one of the ambassadors of the game.

  6. aceburgh - Feb 15, 2011 at 9:26 PM

    What does Matt Cooke have to do with the pathetic state of the New York Islanders?

  7. bcisleman - Feb 16, 2011 at 11:49 PM

    Obviously a lot of Penguin fans on this thread. Friday was about the Islanders standing up for themselves. Friday was about the Islanders being tired of the Penguins taking cheap shots at them and getting away with it. Shero TALKED to Cooke? I guess that showed him! A large part of this was Cooke running DP 3x in October, Sure he was penalized, but he should have been suspended. That was the history that led DP to bump Cooke as he passed too close to DP’s crease once again. That led Johnson to challenge DP which led to the one punch fight…and the moron Fleury yucking it up on the bench. If the Islanders are pathetic, what does that make the team they drilled 9-3? And don’t give me some lame excuse about injuries, because we have a much longer list. And Don Cherry is right sometimes and this is one of them.

    • ihateannouncers - Feb 17, 2011 at 4:05 AM

      It’s not a lot of Penguin fans on here, it’s a lot of objective hockey fans who know garbage when they see it on here. Once again, the Matt Cooke argument is valid, and Lemieux should have addresed it in his comments, but it has NOTHING TO DO WITH THAT GAME. So Dipietros “bump” on Cooke wasn’t cheap?? Typical…Fleury’s reaction was the same as everybody else who saw the punch. Thats why it was shown and talked about over and over again on every sports talk show in North America. Friday was really about retaliation, which should have been in the form of non suckerpunch fighting, hard hits that didn’t continue with punches to the head after a guy goes to the ice, and a lopsided 9-3 win. If it was handled correctly by the Isles bench , we wouldn’t be talking about that game at all. Unfortunately the Isles took it to a ‘Slapshot’ level of goonery not seen since the 70’s. IF you watched the game it was obvious that this was the Isles game plan from the start ( Michael Haley), and the league probably should have levied a stiffer fine. Don Cherry (no surprise) most likely didn’t watch the game and misses the point. At least he is consistant in his cluelessness.

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