After leaving the Consol Energy Center locker room after Tuesday night’s loss, Penguins left wing Matt Cooke pondered the last time he was a team’s top goal-scorer this late in a season.
He didn’t have an example.
He won’t lack for time to think about it, as the NHL on Wednesday suspended him four games for a controversial hit on Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin late in the first period of a 4-1 home loss Tuesday.
Cooke participated by phone in a discipline hearing. He declined comment to the Tribune-Review.
The Penguins have lost two straight games and embark on a four-game road trip after a home game tonight against Los Angeles.
Losing Cooke is another blow for the Penguins, who could play tonight with wingers Pascal Dupuis and Tyler Kennedy as the co-leader in goals with 10 apiece. Cooke also has 10 goals.
Left wing Chris Kunitz — a late scratch against Columbus because of a lower-body injury — has posted 18 goals and is day-to-day.
Wingers Eric Tangradi and Tim Wallace were reassigned to the AHL late yesterday. Penguins general manager Ray Shero said those moves do not indicate any of the injured players are guaranteed to play tonight.
The Penguins already are down centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and rookie Mark Letestu, a trio that has combined for 57 goals.
Malkin is out for the season because of ligament tears in his right knee. He will undergo surgery today. Letestu had surgery this past weekend to repair an injured left knee and will miss six weeks.
Also, right wing Arron Asham remains day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
Cooke’s hit on Tyutin occurred with about five minutes left in the first period. Cooke received a major penalty for charging. He knocked Tyutin into the boards as Tyutin attempted to retrieve a puck from behind the Blue Jackets’ net.
The hit sent Tyutin face-first into the glass.
NHL discipline czar Colin Campbell said in a statement that two factors were considered in Cooke’s suspension: His status as a multiple offender and his “delivering a forceful hit from behind on an unsuspecting opponent.”
Shero said it doesn’t matter if he agrees with Campbell’s ruling, but he “is accepting of it.”
“We know the deal with Matt is that he is a multiple-time offender,” Shero said. “I’m glad we’ll be getting him back after four games, and I’m glad (Tyutin) isn’t hurt and was able to finish the game.”
Tyutin, given Cooke’s reputation, wasn’t surprised by the hit.
“It was the worst hit I’ve ever had from behind,” he said to the Columbus Post-Dispatch after Tuesday’s game.
Many NHL players and coaches believe Cooke often crosses the line of legal hits. Then-Penguins teammate Bill Guerin even criticized him for a controversial hit on Boston Bruins center Marc Savard in March.
Cooke also is not without his defenders — notably Penguins coach Dan Bylsma — and his value to the Penguins was obvious last June when they signed him to a three-year contract.
It is unlikely Cooke’s teammates will be pleased; video replays show Tyutin looking over his shoulder as Cooke approached.
Many Penguins remain mystified the NHL did not discipline Washington center David Steckel or Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman for their blindside hits on Crosby last month.
Crosby has missed 14 straight games because of a concussion, and there is no time frame for his return. He was the NHL’s leading scorer at the time.
Cooke has been at the forefront of the headshot debate since his hit on Savard last season. Legal at the time, the hit resulted in a concussion for Savard, who did not return until Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Kings at Penguins
7 p.m. Thursday, Consol Energy Center
TV/radio: FSN Pittsburgh/WXDX-FM (105.9) and the Penguins Radio Network
Season series: The Penguins and Kings haven’t met this season. They last played Nov. 5, 2009, in Los Angeles, when the Kings won, 5-2. This is the Kings’ first visit to Pittsburgh in two years.
Streak: Lost 2
Who to watch: D Drew Doughty. Although his numbers are down from last season, Doughty has already emerged as one of the game’s best defenseman at age 21.
Trends ‘n at: The Penguins will be without C Sidney Crosby (concussion), C Evgeni Malkin (knee), C Mark Letestu (knee) and LW Matt Cooke (suspension). It also appears possible that LW Chris Kunitz (lower body injury) and RW Arron Asham (upper body injury) could be out tonight. …The Penguins have scored just one goal over the past seven periods. … Although the Kings are considered one of hockey’s most talented teams, they are one point out of the playoff race in the Western Conference.