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Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier calls Pens' Matt Cooke "a dirty player"



Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier the other day said the shoulder-to-head hit Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke put on Boston's Marc Savard made him "sick." But now that the NHL has decided the hit, which was not penalized, does not warrant a suspension or fine, Lecavalier took it a bit further, saying he is "upset" Cooke was not disciplined and that the left wing is a dirty player.

It was Cooke's hit on Lecavalier, who was not carrying the puck in April 2008, that separated Lecavalier's shoulder, which needed surgery.

"It's upsetting, and it has nothing to do with what happened to me," Lecavalier said Thursday. "I just can't believe the league is letting him get away with that, a guy like that. He hurts guys. He's a dirty player. He's running around the ice looking for hits like that when guys aren't looking. For the league to protect him; they said Mike Richards' hit and his were the same. Mike Richards is not a dirty player."

To interject, Philadelphia's Richards in October clobbered Florida's David Booth with a shoulder-to-head hit. Booth was taken off on a stretcher and Richards was given a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct.

"But Mike Richards isn't a dirty player," Lecavalier continued. "You've got to look at intentions, and Matt Cooke's intention was to hurt Marc Savard. I don't think anybody is going to argue with what I'm saying."

League GMs on Wednesday recommended a rule change to ban blind-side and lateral hits to the head. Incidents would warrant a two- or five-minute penalty at the referees discretion. Lecavalier said he wants to see all head shots banned.

"We have to protect guys," he said. "Hits to the head have been there a long time, but guys are getting stronger and faster. They've cracked down on hits from behind and they have to do the same thing with hits to the head. if they change the rule, it doesn't mean it will never happen, but at least make a rule that will have consequences, not like this guy (Cooke) running around and hurting guys and getting away with it."

More stuff from the morning skate: Mike Smith gets the start in net. Asked if Antero Niittymaki will start Friday against the Capitals, coach Rick Tocchet said he wasn't sure. "We're day-to-day here," he said of his inconsistent netminders. ... Ryan Malone (upper body) skated this morning and likely will be back in the lineup, though there was no word where. Malone missed one game with what he said was a long-time lingering issue that is "minor." Less so is that Malone has zero goals in 14 games and two in his past 26. "When you're not helping the team it's obviously frustrating," he said. "We've been struggling a little bit of late and you want to help out as much as you can. When you're winning, it doesn't really matter too much, but when you start losing you start looking upon yourself a little bit more to help out and chip in." The theory was floated that Malone, who played on a line with Steven Stamkos for much of the season and with him on the power play, wasn't scoring because Stamkos was scoring so much and not providing rebounds. "Yeah, that's half the battle probably," Malone said. "He's come a long way from missing the net on every shot last year. It's amazing what happens when he hits the net. Especially the last few games, he's really trying to raise his game. You  can see he's playing with a lot of desperation right now to do whatever he can to lead us. It's just great." ... Former Lightning Gary Roberts, who trained Stamkos last summer and will do so again next summer, will also be training Steve Downie. The right wing worked out last summer with Tampa Bay trainer Chuck Lobe in Minneapolis. Downie, who with 16 goals, 39 points and a team-best plus-19 is having a breakout season, said he would do it again, except it is so far away from his Ontario, Canada home. That said, "I know Stammer did a great job last year and Gary is well-known around the hockey world for his work ethic and routines, so I think it will be a good fit for me. I'm excited." ... Spoke to rookie defense Victor Hedman about his drop-off in play, especially from his high-caliber start. He agreed he has not been at his best --he is minus-7 his past six games -- but said it was his inexperience that is causing the dip. Asked if he was feeling any fatigue in his first NHL season, Hedman, who said the most games he has ever played in the Swedish elite league was in the 50s, said no. "I fee well-rested," he said. "I have a lot of energy. You make some mistakes sometimes, but it's not because I'm tired, maybe because of a lack of experience and stuff." Coach Rick Tocchet said Hedman needs to be stronger around the corners and in front of the net, but did not rule out Hedman, averaging 21:34 of ice time, might have hit a wall. "That's the million-dollar question," Tocchet said. "I can't give you an answer, but to be a professional, playing 82 games, training camp, it's hard. It's something you have to train your mind and body. Everybody has raised their level on other teams, too. Guys are holding the puck a lot harder, guys are blocking shots and going in front of the net a lot harder. mentally, you have to match that or surpass it. It's tough. It's part of his maturing process." ... With Stamkos returning to what is basically his home town of Toronto -- he grew up about an hour north in Unionville, Ontario, -- the love-in was in full swing with cameras and notepads all around him after the morning skate. How good has Stamkos been? Since Feb. 17 last season, his 57 goals are second in the league, two behind Alex Ovechkin.

[Last modified: Saturday, April 10, 2010 12:15am]


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