Penguins' halt losing streak with 4-2 victory over Ottawa

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Matt Cooke got a new job Wednesday night.

Got hit with some old accusations, too.

He was promoted to Evgeni Malkin's line in the Penguins' 4-2 victory against Ottawa at Consol Energy Center and earned an assist on James Neal's winning goal early in the third period.

That came shortly after he had sliced Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson's left Achilles with his skate in the final minute of the second.

A "complete accident," Cooke called it.

An act of carelessness, according to some of the Senators. Or malice. Or worse.

"It's Matt Cooke," Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray said. "What else should I say?"

Cooke and Karlsson, honored as the NHL's top defenseman last season, were battling near the left-wing boards in the Ottawa end when Cooke's skate came down on the back of Karlsson's left leg.

"I can't tell if it's intent to injure or not," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "He obviously catches Erik right [above] where his skate ends and where we don't have any padding."

Karlsson dropped to the ice in obvious distress, then headed directly to the locker room.

"It was the end of a penalty-kill," Cooke said. "I was at the end of a shift and [Craig Adams] took a shot and I went to the corner. ]Karlsson] and I were engaged. He went down screaming, and I didn't even know what happened.

"Obviously, I feel terrible about it. I'm not trying to do that, obviously. It's happened [to various players] a few times over the last couple of years, and it's scary."

With good reason. Less than an hour after the incident, the Senators announced the nature of Karlsson's injury and that it would have to be surgically repaired. It is not known when he will be able to resume playing. There also was no immediate indication whether the league will investigate that sequence, which did not result in a penalty.

Cooke has made a well-documented effort during the past season-plus to change his playing style and shed a long-standing reputation for cheap shots.

He drastically reduced the amount of time he spent in the penalty box in 2011-12, and the 10-minute misconduct he was assessed with just over two minutes left in regulation, after Senators enforcer Chris Neil punched him repeatedly, is the only penalty Cooke has received in the past eight games.

"I was surprised that he sucker-punched me, but I wasn't surprised that he came and asked me [to fight]," Cooke said. "At that point, I don't feel the need to fight."

Cooke got that misconduct not because of anything he did, but presumably because referees Rob Martell and Tom Kowal wanted to minimize chances of additional mayhem after the game had been decided.

The incident with Karlsson overshadowed a strong overall performance by Cooke, who replaced Zach Boychuk at left wing on a line with Malkin and Neal at the start of the second period. Coach Dan Bylsma said Cooke responded with perhaps his best even-strength showing of the season.

"Matt doesn't really change his game or need to change his game to play up there," Bylsma said. "He forechecks. We saw that in the game. He goes to the net. We saw that in the game. He's responsible on the defensive side of the puck. We saw that in the game."

In addition to giving Cooke a new role, the Penguins brought Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen off injured reserve and reunited them as a defense pairing.

Letang played 27 1/2 minutes and reported "no problems," whole Niskanen logged a little over 21 and acknowledged being "little rusty" after a layoff of more than two weeks.

Pascal Dupuis of the Penguins converted a Sidney Crosby feed at 16:23 for the only goal of the first period, but Stephane Da Costa and Jim O'Brien beat Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in a span of 24 seconds midway through the second.

Neal tied the game at 13:47 on Crosby's 400th career assist, then put the Penguins in front to stay at 1:52 of the third. Crosby closed out the scoring at 11:42.

The victory ended the Penguins' two-game losing streak. But when Karlsson went down, the Senators lost a lot more than just two points.

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Dave Molinari: and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published February 14, 2013 5:00 AM


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