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What else can ya say? This one hurt. Talk about rough timing with back-to-back games.
Combined with the past two days' efforts, the Pens hold a 10-8 in their 9 previous instances of double-header games. Of the 10 wins, four involved a win in the first game, followed by a loss the day after. They've faced consecutive back-to-back losses once this season Flyers/Rangers Nov 7/8), and only in one instance have the Pens won both games in a double-header (Oilers/Flames on December 5/6).
Coming off Tuesday's victory against the Devils in New Jersey, it's hard to say whether the Pens were just genuinely tired last night in Atlanta. If they weren't, then they sure played like they did.
For all intensive purposes, Ty Conklin kept the game 'close', if you'd even go as far as to say 4-1 is close. The Atlanta offense had him flopping around the net, more often than not scoring on chip shots lifted over his sprawling body. Ilya Kovalchuk's rocket from the point was quite possibly the only shot on the night unstoppable by any goalie.
Speaking of Kovi...
Roughly three minutes into the second period, Jarkko Ruutu pursued Kovalchuk near the bench in attempts to pin him up. Avoiding the hit, Kovalchuk slipped out of the way but connected with Ruutu knee-to-knee. Ruutu was sent into the boards near the bench area, and Kovalchuk crumpled to the ice in a heap of obvious pain. In his All-Star's defense, Steve McCarthy charged over to the scene and unloaded a few jabs on Ruutu's face. In attempts to draw the penalty, Ruutu simply took the lashing and skated back to the bench after the one-sided scuffle dispersed.
Following the incident, much to the surprise of Pens fans and even Ruutu himself, he was slapped with 20 minutes of penalties, including five for fighting, five for kneeing and a 10-minute game misconduct. Similarly, McCarthy was ejected from the game as well, accumulating fighting, instigator and misconduct penalties along the way.
Earlier in the game Ruutu had been hitting like a man possessed along the boards. Although not dirty hits, they were definitely board rattling. I don't think his hit on Kovalchuk warranted a game misconduct, although I do think a 'kneeing' penalty would have sufficed just on its own. Even still, I'd never heard of kneeing in hockey. It's not like he grabbed Kovi by the helmet and delivered a knee to the face.
Now THAT would be a kneeing penalty...
The first period scoring was solely that of the Thrashers, as Holik slipped one past Conklin amidst a barrage of confusion in front of the net. Kovalchuk's laser on the power play later in the period would put the Thrash up 2-0.
The second period saw no change in scoring, while the third opened with two more quick goals from Atlanta to make it 4-0. It wasn't until roughly eight minutes in that the Pens killed the shutout on a goal from Ryan Whitney. Christensen continued his two-game point streak with an assist on the play.
Overall, a tough loss for the Pens. A win would have secured first place, if only for a day. Tonight the Flyers take on the Rangers in a move that can only hurt the Atlantic Division. Either Philly moves up two more points, or the Rangers close-in on the race.
The Pens will have the next two days off before playing the Hurricanes in Carolina on Saturday.