Penguins notebook: Much has changed since Matt Cullen recorded a fighting major
NEW YORK — Thursday night’s game in Brooklyn was Pittsburgh Penguins center Matt Cullen’s final NHL appearance as a 41-year-old.
Cullen celebrates his 42nd birthday Friday, joining Tim Horton and Gary Roberts as the only players in franchise history to suit up for the team past the age of 41.
The longevity of Cullen’s NHL career gives rise to a number of remarkable facts and stats.
For instance, he is one of four active players to have played in a game against Wayne Gretzky. Boston’s Zdeno Chara, San Jose’s Joe Thornton and Toronto’s Patrick Marleau are the others.
Also, it has been a long time since Cullen recorded his most recent fighting major. In fact, it was two decades ago.
On Valentine’s Day 1999, while Cullen played for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, he dropped the gloves with Jeremy Roenick of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Both teams have subsequently changed their names, Roenick has moved into the broadcast booth, and Cullen keeps chugging along.
“It was on ESPN,” Cullen recalled. “That was when the NHL was on ESPN and all my buddies were watching at home. They thought I was a pretty top fighter. Really, it was a terrible fight. I learned pretty quickly I’m not a very good fighter. That’s probably why it was the last one.”
After leading the league with 1.90 points per game and helping the Penguins to a 6-2-2 record, Evgeni Malkin was named the NHL’s second star of the month for October. Malkin came into Thursday night with six goals and 19 points in 10 games.
Colorado’s Mikka Rantanen, who leads the league with 21 points, was the first star.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not one of the more high-profile accolades Malkin has collected, but coach Mike Sullivan seems to appreciate any time his star center is recognized as one of the top players in the game.
“He quietly goes about his business every day and every game and has been a dominant player in the league,” Sullivan said. “I think Geno flies under the radar for whatever reason. He doesn’t in Pittsburgh, and he certainly doesn’t on our team or within our dressing room. But in the hockey world, I think Geno’s a guy that tends to fly under the radar as far as how dominant a player he is and has been.”
Coach vs. coach
By playing a home-and-home with the Islanders, the Penguins are getting a good look at the changes coach Barry Trotz has brought to his new organization since leaving the Washington Capitals in June.
While Trotz’s Capitals teams were known for their high-octane offenses, Sullivan said that’s not the coaching fingerprint he’s noticed in New York.
“The one thing that Barry does bring to his teams is he brings a certain level of structure and a defense-first mentality,” Sullivan said. “That’s what he’s done here.”
Sullivan balked at the idea he and Trotz have a rivalry.
“Barry’s a real good coach. I’ve got a lot of respect for Barry and what he’s done with his respective teams,” Sullivan said. “I don’t know that coaches have rivalries. I think teams have rivalries, and usually that’s based on familiarity and usually it’s based on playoffs.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.