NEWARK, N.J. -- The Penguins will have a hard time finding anything to dislike about their 5-2 victory Saturday against New Jersey at the Prudential Center.
But there might be at least one thing about which they can be concerned.
Defenseman Kris Letang, who missed 21 games with a concussion earlier this season and just returned to the lineup Thursday after sitting out five more with concussion-like symptoms, absorbed a hard hit from Devils winger Eric Boulton early in the third period.
Letang did not leave the game but did seem to be feeling the effects of it during a brief interview later, even though he insisted that was not the case.
"I stayed in the game, played in the game," he said. "I was fine. ... I would have gotten off the ice [if the hit had caused a problem.]"
Coach Dan Bylsma allowed that "it was a big hit," but said he had not seen replays of Boulton's check before meeting with reporters. He also noted that Letang "was right back out there the next shift."
It is not clear whether Boulton's hit will have any impact on Letang's availability for the Penguins' game today in Philadelphia.
The NHL's Masterton Trophy is not supposed to be about personal redemption or rehabilitating a player's reputation.
Rather, it is intended to recognize "perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."
Matt Cooke met those criteria well enough to be chosen as the Penguins' Masterton nominee in voting by the local chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
"Any of those accolades are great, and it's a huge honor for me," Cooke said. "But it's not my focus."
That might be, but he went a long way toward cleaning up his image while earning the Masterton nomination.
Cooke was regarded, for years, as one of the NHL's dirtiest players and delivered highly publicized, dangerous hits on the likes of Boston center Marc Savard and New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in recent seasons.
But, after sitting out the final 10 games of the 2010-11 regular season and all the first-round playoff series against Tampa Bay, Cooke performed a radical overhaul on his style of play.
"It makes a big difference when you're not suspended every week," Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador said. "He's definitely changed the way he plays out there. He's not running around with his head cut off and he's more effective.
"And he's getting rewarded for it."
Cooke has two goals inconsecutive games and has scored a career-high 16 this season. He also has 15 assists, for a total of 31 points in 70 games. More important, Cooke has just 30 penalty minutes after reaching triple-figures in each of his first three seasons with the Penguins.
Evgeni Malkin's goal at 12:42 of the second period was his 40th this season, making him the sixth player in franchise history to reach that milestone more than once. The others are Mario Lemieux, Kevin Stevens, Jaromir Jagr, Mike Bullard and Jean Pronovost.
Jordan Staal had a noteworthy accomplishment, too, recording an assist for the 10th game in a row. To put that in perspective, consider this: Sidney Crosby's longest such streak is nine games.
Penguins left winger Chris Kunitz was awarded a penalty shot at 1:55 of the opening period, after New Jersey defenseman Marek Zidlicky tripped him as he moved in on Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. Brodeur stopped him, however, leaving the Penguins 1 for 2 on penalty shots this season. Cooke beat Kari Lehtonen of Dallas Nov. 11 at Consol Energy Center.
The victory was the Penguins' 1,500th, making them the 11th franchise to reach that mark. ... The Penguins have won 20 games on the road for the sixth consecutive season. Montreal managed that feat seven seasons in a row in the 1970s. ... Bylsma said center Joe Vitale did not play in the third period because of an unspecified injury, although the official stat sheet credited him with taking one shift.