Cooke’s Knee-to-Knee Hit on Ovie the Real Vengeance

Posted February 7, 2011

Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom go after Matt Cooke on Sunday. Photo by Clyde of

Pittsburgh had a score to settle with David Steckel, because it was Steckel who delivered a ‘dirty’ hit to Sidney Crosby during the Winter Classic that caused Crosby to suffer a concussion. The Capitals – and seemingly everyone else – disputed that the hit was intentional, as video replays showed that Crosby turned into Steckel and Steckel didn’t make any motion to hit Crosby.

But that’s not the point. From the Penguins’ point of view, Steckel’s hit, accidental or not, had to be avenged. They’ve got to protect their star player and fight anyone who does anything to hurt him. They’ve got to show that anyone who messes with Crosby will have to suffer the consequences. (Read the Caps’ reaction to Steckel’s fight on DC Sports Bog.)

This is all part of The Code. There is nothing unusual about this and Washington understands that.

Like an outlaw motorcycle gang telling a prospect to rough up a local rube who badmouths the gang (or accidentally bumps into a member who falls to the ground), the Penguins gave former Notre Dame player and Penguins call-up Tim Wallace a chance to earn his stripes in Pittsburgh’s 3-0 loss Sunday. It doesn’t matter that Wallace didn’t play in the Winter Classic, or that, standing four inches shorter than Steckel, hardly makes the ideal opponent. It’s also said that Wallace wasn’t the Pens’ first choice to fight Steckel, because Steckel declined other invitations against more suitable opponents, which is understandable since Steckel himself is not a fighter.

The two fought, and the Penguins got their message across. Right?

Hardly. Sending an expendable player to fight David Steckel for his ‘hit’ on Crosby is only Phase 1 of this situation.

In the same period of the same game, the Penguins attempted real vengeance against the Capitals. Matt Cooke’s knee-to-knee hit on Alex Ovechkin, which could have severely injured the star player, was the retribution that Pittsburgh sought. Then, like Crosby, Ovechkin would be injured, too. Cooke, who was assessed a laughable two-minute tripping minor for the play, would be suspended for a few games, which is something Pittsburgh could overcome. They really don’t care about Steckel. You take out our star, we’ll take out yours.

So why didn’t they just send Wallace to attempt to injure Ovechkin? The same reason you don’t send a mob prospect to execute the opposition’s Don. You use your best hitmen for the job.

Could Cooke’s knee-to-knee have happened without Steckel’s hit on Crosby? Of course. Random acts of violence are part of hockey, too. But when things like that happen, it’s part of The Code to justify it with relevant history.

Later in the game, Matt Bradley sought revenge against Cooke by asking him to fight. “Sir, I challenge you to a duel.” Cooke declined. After all, from Cooke’s point of view, he had no obligation, because his dirty hit on Ovechkin was just retribution for something much worse.

So, it’s now the Capitals’ turn to answer the call. They’ve got to tell the Penguins: Don’t try to hurt our star player. The Caps did the honorable thing by requesting a fight, just as the Penguins did with Steckel. Cooke declined, perhaps trying to wrap up this soap opera. Or, perhaps he didn’t want to fight Bradley for the same reason Steckel didn’t want to fight other Penguins. Maybe had Marcus Johansson threw down the gauntlet, Cooke would’ve dropped the gloves to answer for his actions.

The Capitals, who are a relatively clean team, now need to target Matt Cooke. But if Cooke continues to deny fight requests (and Bradley’s request was certainly reasonable), then the Caps need to go after one of their star players. Not with a hit like what Steckel did to Crosby, which even Pittsburgh knows was questionable, but with a real shot and a real target.

Or, the Capitals can dress D.J. King. He, Matt Hendricks, Matt Bradley and John Erskine can rumble with the Penguins’ tough guys, Cooke included. It’ll all be in the name of settling this drama once and for all. No more knee-to-knee hits on the star players after that (at least, without historical cause). Sounds good? Settled, then. Do this, let the first period of the Monday, Feb. 21 game in Pittsburgh (on Versus) be a bloodfest, and let the stars play.

Get The Code: The Unwritten Rules Of Fighting and Retaliation In The NHL on Videos after the jump.

Steckel’s Hit on Crosby

Steckel vs. Wallace

Cooke’s Hit on Ovechkin