In a season where the Pittsburgh has had very few constants, checking winger Matt Cooke has been one. Sure, he's one of only nine Pens to play all 24 games, but it goes a lot further than that. Cooke's not a standout player in this league, he's merely a cog in the machine. But the Penguins are doing very well in some categories where the Cookie Monster is a major contributor, and that's no coincidence. For instance:
The Penguins have the 6th best penalty kill in the NHL, currently at 83.0%. It all boils down to the goalie on the PK, but you have to give a lot of credit to where it starts -- the fowards. mainly Jordan Staal (3:02 SH time per game), Cooke (2:47), Craig Adams (2:47) and Pascal Dupuis (2:15) are doing some good work. Cooke's up quite a bit from his 2008-09 season average of 1:41 per game and a big reason why the penalty kill has been so good.
Pittsburgh is #2 in the NHL in hits with 659 bashes so far. Think that's due to a home-ice statistician advantage? Think again: Pittsburgh is #1 in the NHL with 345 recorded road hits. Gotta credit to the top players here: Cooke (72), Adams (67), Brooks Orpik (64), and Mike Rupp (55). Again, the fore-check proves it's worth and Cooke is leading the charge here.
Cooke's been effective in more than just the flashy hits. He's tied with Adams with 19 blocked shots (most among Pittsburgh forwards) and Cooke's fifth among Penguins in takeaways (with 10).
Aside from the dirty work, let's talk points. Matt Cooke has 11 points in 24 games, on pace for 37 points, his best since his career year in 2002-03 with Vancouver when he had 42. Perhaps more impressive is how he's getting them: the dirty way (you expected less?). Ten of Cooke's points have come at even strength, tied with Evgeni Malkin for third on the team --behind franchise centers Sidney Crosby (15) and frequent Cooke linemate Jordan Staal (11).
Perhaps the ultimate compliment to Cooke is this: playing on a Stanley Cup winning team that does a lot of the little things right, it's hard to find someone that does more of them than Cooke. He hits, he kills penalties, he blocks shots, he takes the puck away, he scores at even strength.
Announcers like to say that teams can't win without the role players playing well. Matt Cooke is playing superbly right now. Thanks to guys like him, Pittsburgh is in first place in the Conference once again.