Earlier this week, when asked about his five-game suspension for hitting Bruins forward Brad Marchand's head with his knee, Penguins forward James Neal said, "I hurt my team."
In the offseason following his 17-game suspension for hitting Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh late in 2010-11, former Penguins forward Cooke offered nearly identical thoughts when he said, "I hurt my teammates last year and I know that.
In both cases, the Penguins lost players of varying degrees of value. With Neal, the Penguins lost a first-team all-star winger who has reached 40 goals and with Cooke, the Penguins lost a vital member of the team's penalty kill which stumbled in the late stages of the 2010-11 season in his absence.
How do teammates react to a player who has "hurt" a team by being suspended? Without specifically addressing the situations of Neal, Cooke or any other player, four veteran members of the Penguins were asked in a generic sense if there is ever anger or disappointment at a teammate who misses games due to supplemental discipline:
Kris Letang, defensemen - "Not really. It can happen to everybody you know? It happened to me before. I was not trying to do the wrong thing. Hockey, can sometimes get really intense ... I don’t feel any anger towards [Neal].It can happen to anybody. I’m pretty sure all 25 guys in the room snapped at one time in their careers. It could have been a suspension, maybe not. You try to control as much as you can. It’s part of life. You learn from it. … Everybody does mistakes in life. At the end of the day, I’m sure he feels bad enough. We don’t have to remind him."
Sidney Crosby, center – "I don’t know if ‘anger’ is the right word. I think you feel bad because you know he plays pretty hard. He made a mistake. He knows that but there’s really nothing you can do to change that. It’s tough watching anytime. I think you feel bad. I haven’t been in that position but you feel bad for the guy."
Jussi Jokinen, left winger - "I don’t think so. It was a really intense game. He has to know what he’s doing. He went over the line. That’s what happens sometimes with those tight games. That was a really emotional game. Lots of things happen. It’s tough on him and tough on the team. But I don’t think there’s any anger. It’s part of the game. We have lots of good players who have to step up and play in his spot. Obviously, we’ll be happy when we get him back for sure."
Matt Niskanen, defensemen – "I think it depends on what he does. If it’s a fast play where you could understand how it could happen, I don’t think I’d get too upset. It’s easy in [slow motion] but in real time, it’s very borderline. It could be clean versus dirty. It could be a half inch or just a split second. But the premeditated stuff when a guy takes a run at someone intentionally, stuff like that, it could be looked at as selfish."
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