Thursday, May 22, 2008

The 2007-2008 season, by the "tens" -- Wingers: Matt Cooke

And now, as we move down the list of wingers…

Matt Cooke

Theme: “I think it's liquid aggravation that circulates through his veins, and not regular blood.”

"I'm just looking forward to playing somewhere where they want me.” So said Matt Cooke upon getting the news that he had been traded to the Capitals for forward Matt Pettinger. Pettinger – an energy forward who showed a goal-scoring touch in the previous two years – spent 56 games trying to get out of a goal-scoring rut (two goals) while struggling in other aspects (-11) and – by his own admission – developing a rift with coach Bruce Boudreau.

Enter Matt Cooke. Upon arriving – his arrival delayed because of work visa paperwork – he was installed on the second line with Alexander Semin and fellow newcomer Sergei Fedorov. He would then be moved down to a checking line in later games, but would return to the second line by the end of the year.

In fact, Cooke’s short tenure breaks down roughly into three pieces...

In the first of them, the Caps got a look at the full Cooke. In his second game with the club – the Caps hosting the Bruins – Cooke made the trade look good with a goal and a pair of assists in a 10-2 win.

Five days later, Cooke accumulated 17 minutes in penalties and was ejected after incurring a major penalty for kneeing and a game misconduct in a 2-1 loss to the Bruins that very nearly scuttled the Caps’ season.

Cooke then posted a goal and an assist in a 4-1 win over Atlanta in completing his first phase with the club – 2-3-5, +3, with 19 penalty minutes in seven games.

Over the next seven games, Cooke failed to register a point. It corresponded in large part with his being moved off the second line for a significant portion of that stretch. Getting steady time on the second line with Semin and Fedorov in the final three games, Cooke was 1-1-2, +3.

Cooke could be evaluated in comparison with the player he replaced – Matt Pettinger. A grinder for much of his early career, Pettinger developed a scoring touch in tallying 36 goals over the two seasons preceding this one. But Pettinger got off to a slow start and moved backwards. His scoring dried up, and he lacked jump in his game. By the time he was traded for Cooke, he was a dismal 2-5-7, -11 in 56 games with the Caps.

Cooke supplied the energy that Pettinger couldn’t summon, and was every bit the pest he was advertised as being. Statistically, he was somewhat unremarkable, but with Fedorov and Semin he contributed to a second line that was more consistently productive than it was before his arrival. More to the point, Pettinger was contributing almost nothing from the third and fourth lines at 10-12 minutes a night, while Cooke was supporting an improved second line getting 12-14 minutes a night – certainly a net positive for the club, whatever Cooke’s statistical line might have been.

While it is uncertain that the unrestricted free agent will be re-signed, Cooke contributed this season in a manner consistent with the style advertised for him. It perhaps does not rise to the level of contribution his fellow newcomers – Fedorov and Cristobal Huet – enjoyed, but it was an element in the Caps’ final drive. For that, he gets an above average grade: