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Matt Cooke steals headlines in Penguins’ shootout win

Oct 7, 2011, 1:29 AM EDT

Matt Cooke Pascal Dupuis Matt Niskanen AP

It only makes sense that a sloppy but enjoyable game like tonight’s Pittsburgh Penguins-Vancouver Canucks match ended with a guilty pleasure “skills competition.” While Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin scored gorgeous shootout goals to help the Penguins hold on for a 4-3 SO win, most of tonight’s game didn’t go as expected.

Malkin earned an assist on James Neal‘s opportunistic goal on the power play, but he was held in check in a way that he didn’t experience very often during a red-hot preseason. (Malkin’s chemistry with Neal and veteran winger Steve Sullivan was apparent on multiple plays, however, so it remains reasonable to maintain confidence in his Hart Trophy candidacy.)

Instead of a big first night for Geno, Vancouver’s would-be MVP candidates were the biggest difference-makers, as Daniel Sedin scored the game-tying goal and an assist while Henrik Sedin earned two primary helpers. Letang was productive on offense in his own right, scoring that SO goal and collecting two assists.

Cooke produces nice results in first game since suspension

Matt Cooke was the true headline-stealer, though, as he scored two goals to give the Penguins 2-0 and 3-1 leads before the Sedins took over. Cooke found the net thanks to a great behind-the-net pass by Pascal Dupuis and used a Canucks defender as a screen to foil Roberto Luongo on an odd angle shot to score shorthanded. (Marc-Andre Fleury let Luongo’s softy off the hook to an extent by allowing a strange one of his own for Maxim Lapierre‘s 2-1 tally.)

It’s common to assign a ” … But he can actually play” qualifier to a good number of pests, but the description actually fits Cooke, even if his negative moments grossly outweigh his positive contributions in the eyes of most. Even with that praise in mind, it’s useful to note that he usually makes a difference on the penalty kill rather than on the scoreboard, so a two-goal night is a great treat for the Penguins.

Maybe a positive return from shame and a suspension could help Cooke turn the corner? The best reaction is to take the “Wait and see” approach to that situation, which is probably a wise strategy to take with all of the NHL’s season openers. Brian Engblom caught up with Cooke after the game.

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***

Both teams and their goalies experienced some rocky moments, but there were also uplifting ones. Neal showed a lot of burst after a tough second half of 201-11. Keith Ballard (of all people) scored a gorgeous goal thanks to a fantastic feed by Henrik Sedin. The Penguins started out strong on the road while the Canucks shook off a somewhat shaky start to earn a point in their home opener. The NHL’s elite find ways to make the best of less-than-spectacular nights and both teams showed glimpses of that potential on Oct. 6.

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