Ilya Kovalchuk Injured in 4-1 Thrashers Win

David HarrisCorrespondent IJanuary 31, 2008

The Thrashers had a solid outing last night, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1.

Unfortunately, the win was tainted by a knee injury suffered by Ilya Kovalchuk from a questionable hit. The perpetrator was Jarkko Ruutu, who isn't one to shy away from hits. Kovalchuk will be examined by team physicians today.

This play encompasses, in my mind, the problem that hockey faces.

Fighting, and the role of "enforcer," is an integral part of what makes hockey so entertaining. Yet at the same time, there's an unwritten rule about targeting elite players, as Kovalchuk so clearly is.

That fine line is always going to be a matter of debate and there's not much that can be done about it.

The NHL has tried to curtail fighting, but to do so is to alienate a large portion of their die-hard base of fans, who like to see some rough-and-tumble. But losing a player of Kovalchuk's stature because someone got a little carried away is a risk the NHL just doesn't want to take.

I'll be the first to say that the hit can't be clearly labeled as malicious. Ruutu didn't go for the head, slash, or otherwise appear to be trying to hurt Kovalchuk.

It is obvious that he saw Atlanta's best player dangerously close to the boards and was going to make sure he hit him, even if it meant throwing a knee into him as he moved away.

We'll see if the NHL levies any kind of suspension against Ruutu. I'd imagine if Kovalchuk misses any time, a suspension will be forthcoming. Let's hope for the Thrashers' sake that Kovy's good to go.