Canadiens-Penguins: A Closer Look at Matt Cooke's Goal

Rocket All HabsCorrespondent IMay 3, 2010

PITTSBURGH - APRIL 22:  Matt Cooke #24 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the Ottawa Senators in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Mellon Arena on April 22, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Senators defeated the Penguins 4-3 in triple overtime.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

posted by Rocket
All Habs

For all the Kostitsyn-haters out there (that includes you, Jacques Martin,) I suggest that you not read this article. As they say, the truth hurts.

I deliberately didn't include a first name, because it's fair to say if you hate one brother, you hate them both. I acknowledge that some people can tolerate one slightly more than the other. The comments against them rarely have logic behind them and often are rooted in a bigotry.

During a pre-game segment in the first round series, when asked about players like the Kostitsyns and Ovechkin, Renaud Lavoie of RDS said, "We have to ask ourselves why Russian [or Belarusian?] players don't show up in the playoffs. They're not there mentally. I don't want to be a racist, but.."

Yes, Renaud. You don't want to, but..

Imagine if Don Cherry said something similar? Can you say Royal Commission?

Do you remember the night of March 11? The two Kostitsyn brothers lead the Canadiens to a victory over Edmonton. Sergei was selected as first star and Andrei had the winning goal in the shootout.

On the Habs Inside/Out site, two veteran reporters lamented about having to interview the two Belarusians after the game.

"A game like that," Pat Hickey sighed, "and now we have to interview the Kostitsyn brothers."

"I didn't stick around the room long enough to hear clichés tumble out of the mouths of Sergei and Andrei in halting English," wrote Mike Boone.

That's three mainstream reporters with a least some level of discrimination. This isn't intended to pick on Lavoie, Hickey, and Boone. They're just the tip of the iceberg.

Which brings us to today's game. Andrei Kostitsyn is in a scoring slump and was relegated to fourth line duty. 

It's never worked before to help Andrei regain his scoring touch, but in Jacques Martin's opinion that's a good enough reason to try it again.

Alongside Kostitsyn were two players who have spent the majority of the past month in the press box, Ben Maxwell and Mathieu Darche.

On their first shift this afternoon, Maxwell, Darche, and Kostitsyn were victimized for a Penguins' goal.

Jacques Martin had surprisingly little tolerance for players who had not played together or were poorly matched.

The trio were each limited to less than two minutes of ice-time for the remainder of the game, following the error.

Analysts almost universally pointed the finger at Kostitsyn for not picking up the goal-scorer, Matt Cooke. Given the inherent prejudices, should we be surprised that he was targeted for the goat horns?

The Cooke goal was such a meaningful play in terms of personnel deployment by coach Martin that I decided to have a closer look.

A face-off took place just outside the Canadiens blueline.

It was Maxwell against Maxime Talbot. On Maxwell's left side was Darche opposing Pascal Dupuis. Kostitsyn was lined up on the right against Penguins' defenseman Alex Goligoski.

Where was Cooke? In an adept bit of coaching, Dan Bylsma had Cooke occupying the left defensive spot, with Jordan Leopold on the other side. Ryan O'Byrne and Marc-Andre Bergeron were the two Canadiens' defensemen on the right and left sides, respectively.

Contrary to some reports, Maxwell won the draw, sending the puck in the direction of Darche. It got into the feet of Darche, who lost the battle for the puck to Dupuis.

At this point the Habs were still in good defensive position. In a set play, Cooke moved from the defensive spot and took a wide path to the Montreal zone. (Cooke is hiding behind the CBC red logo in the screen shot).

Dupuis was the puck-carrier. Bergeron was the key to stopping the developing play.

He could have backed up and defended with O'Byrne and given the Habs' forwards time to back-check. Bergeron's other option was to take an inside position, forcing Dupuis along the boards.

Instead, Bergeron made the worst possible choice. He stepped up to challenge Dupuis and got caught flat footed. From there, it was an easy dish from Dupuis to Talbot to eliminate Bergeron from the play.

(Is this what Boone means when he writes, "But since Markov went down, the team's number 7 Dman [Bergeron] has stepped up?").

With Bergeron badly out of position, O'Byrne was forced to move into the middle of the ice to play the two-on-one.

This opened a path to the goal for Cooke. Talbot made a nice pass to Cooke streaking towards the net. A quick move by Cooke that fooled Halak and the puck was in the Montreal goal.

The coach blamed the forwards, who saw only one more shift for the rest of the game. (Kostitsyn also had 0:49 on the power-play). Perhaps he blamed O'Byrne too, who had the least amount of ice-time by a Canadiens' defenseman.

Darche made a mistake by losing the puck but it should have been recoverable. Ultimately, it was Bergeron's awful decision and fatal error.

In addition, Martin has to bear the responsibility for deploying Maxwell and Darche, who were rusty, and putting Kostitsyn in an unfamiliar role. A coach with foresight would have spotted Cooke lined up on defense and alerted his team.

The coach, media, and fans were only too happy to jump on Kostitsyn for the goal against. The questions is, was it because of their keen analysis or pre-existing prejudice?

Do I think that Andrei Kostitsyn is a charming guy? Do I believe that Sergei would stop to help a stranded motorist after a game, a la Brooks Laich? I don't know, and I don't care.

It's not my concern what language they speak or if they are a good interview. I do know that Andrei and Sergei are extremely talented hockey players and have skills that are unrivaled by anyone on the team.

I would simply appreciate seeing the Kostitsyns' work with a coach who has the motivational tools beyond relegating them to the fourth line, exiling them to the press box, or targeting them for blame.

For Cathie Dres, often a lone voice against a storm of unjustified criticism towards the brothers, this is for you.


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