GAME: Atlanta Thrashers (19-18-6) at Pittsburgh Penguins (11-20-9).
TIME: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
Ilya Kovalchuk showed he does not think too highly of rookie and fellow top overall draft pick Sidney Crosby in the first game of a home-and-home series between the Atlanta Thrashers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Kovalchuk tries to help the Thrashers complete a sweep of the two games as the teams play at Mellon Arena.
The 22-year-old Russian taunted the 18-year-old phenom as he left the penalty box in the second period of Atlanta's 6-4 win Friday. Kovalchuk had just scored a power-play goal to give the Thrashers a 5-0 lead late in the second period and pointed at Crosby as part of his celebration.
"He took a stupid penalty," said Kovalchuk, who thwarted a Penguins comeback in the third period with an empty-net goal in the final minute to complete his second hat trick of the season and become the first to reach 30 goals this season.
"He's an 18-year-old kid and he's got to learn he can't play like this," Kovalchuk, the top overall pick in 2001 said of the No. 1 selection in 2005.
While Penguins coach Michel Therrien warned "it's a long season" when asked about Kovalchuk's comments, the feisty Russian seemed unconcerned with any egos he may have stepped on.
"I don't care" how the Penguins reacted, said Kovalchuk. "It's most important to win the game. We got the two points."
Marc Savard had three assists and Marian Hossa added a goal and two assists in the first two periods, when the Thrashers played near-flawless hockey.
But veteran Mark Recchi spurred a combeack for the Penguins, assisting on goals by John LeClair and Colby Armstrong before scoring a power-play goal to make it 5-4 with 4:18 to play.
Crosby, who had more penalties (two) than assists (one) was less concerned about Kovalchuk than he was pleased with the fact his team refused to quit at any point in the third period.
"It would have been easy to pack it in," Crosby said. "Hopefully, we can learn from this, but at the same time we have to be proud with the way we played in the third period."
Rookie Michel Ouellet continued his recent good play with a goal and assist. He has eight goals and five assists in nine games since being recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Dec. 15 when Therrien replaced Eddie Olczyk.
Pittsburgh is trying to win three straight home games for the first time since March 16-21, 2004, when it was part of an eight-game home unbeaten streak.
STANDINGS: Thrashers - 44 points, 3rd place, 12 PB, Southeast Division. Penguins - 31 points, 5th place, 29 PB, Atlantic Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Thrashers - Kovalchuk, 30 goals and 61 points; Savard, 40 assists and 72 PIM. Penguins - Crosby, 21 goals and 46 points; Zigmund Palffy, 27 assists; Brooks Orpik, 61 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 5): Thrashers - Power play: 21.1 percent (62 for 294), 4th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.8 percent (217 for 272), 28th. Penguins - Power play: 16.9 percent (41 for 242), 18th. Penalty killing: 79.6 percent (210 for 264), 29th.
GOALTENDERS (through Jan. 5): Thrashers - Kari Lehtonen (1-2-0, 0 SO, 2.83 GAA); Michael Garnett (10-7-4, 2, 3.44). Penguins - Marc-Andre Fleury (5-7-3, 0, 3.14); Jocelyn Thibault (1-9-3, 0, 4.30).
SEASON SERIES: Tied, 1-1.
LAST MEETING: Friday; Thrashers, 6-4. At Atlanta, Thibault allowed three goals on nine shots in the first 9:33 before being replaced by Fleury, who turned aside 22 of 24 shots and took the loss.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Thrashers - 8-11-2 on the road; Penguins - 6-9-5 at home.