ATLANTA — For the most part, the Atlanta Thrashers contained Pittsburgh’s superstar duo of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. For the most part.
Then came the defensive breakdowns, which came back to haunt Atlanta in a 4-2 loss to a pro-Penguins crowd at Philips Arena Saturday night.
Malkin figured in every Pittsburgh goal, with his sixth career hat trick and adding an assist. Crosby himself netted a goal and had two assists.
“They are both, not just talented, but strong,” Atlanta coach Craig Ramsay said. “Malkin is a monster and he’s as strong on the puck as anybody and Crosby is as talented as they come. When they got their chances they made us pay for it.”
Malkin, who is the third player to score a hat trick against Atlanta, scored his first goal at 13:22 of the second period on a clever give-and-go with Arron Asham just inside the Atlanta blue line. When he got the puck back, he potted the shot five-hole past Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
“It was a good play,” Pavelec said. “But I probably should’ve had it.”
Crosby put the Pens ahead 2-1 early in the third period when he tipped a point shot from Deryk Engelland past Pavelec.
“Breakdowns, that’s all there is to say,” said Atlanta defenseman Zach Bogosian. “It’s tough, they’re good players and you have to stay on them, but if you give them a little room their gonna score.”
Just over two minutes later, with Thrashers rookie Alex Burmistrov in the box for boarding, Malkin netted his second goal of the contest on the power play when he collected a shot from defenseman Paul Martin that hit the end boards and slammed it past Pavelec.
“It bounced off the board and the goalie did not see the puck,” Malkin said. “I saw it and saw the empty net and I scored.”
Atlanta (7-7-3, 17 points) got to within a goal at 3-2 when Niclas Bergfors scored off a behind-the-net feed from Evander Kane. Atlanta’s best opportunity to even the score came a few minutes later when Bryan Little intercepted a pass inside the Penguins blue line and dished it to Ben Eager only to be robbed on a splendid glove save from Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Little had missed the last six games due to a concussion said it took a little over half the game to feel comfortable with the puck and to get into the game.
Malkin iced the game with 1:02 left with an empty net strike, sending a few hats onto the ice.
“Those guys don’t need a lot of scoring chances to score goals,” Pavelec said. “They are the best players in the NHL and its hard to play against them for 60 minutes, but if you want to make the playoffs you have to shut down those guys. But tomorrow’s another game and we have to be ready for tomorrow.”
Ramsay admitted he was frustrated with Saturday’s result and thought his team deserved better than what it got.
“I thought we played really hard,” he said. “We gave them all we could give them and we created chances and we just gave up a couple of bad goals. We didn’t cash in our chances and their big people were pretty good.
“We fought hard and I think in this case we deserved a better result.”
Atlanta got off to another good start with an early goal from defenseman Brent Sopel, but slowly faded. And the team knows that they have to correct that.
“I thought we had a good start and had a goal right away,” Bogosian said. “That’s what we need to establish game in and game out and we have to play three periods of hockey. But we had some breakdowns that we need to tighten up.”
Atlanta next plays on Sunday at Washington.