Kovalchuk, the team's top scorer with 64 points, got good news with a negative MRI exam the day after the hit by Penguins winger Jarkko Ruutu, but he was told to sit at least two games, including Saturday's game in Washington against the Capitals.
He was not in a good mood Friday, when he was watching his team beat the Buffalo Sabres, 5-4, in a shootout.
"It's always better to be downstairs than upstairs," Kovalchuk, sitting in a Philips Arena suite, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Tomorrow we're going to start workouts; we'll see how the knee will feel."
Asked if he thought the hit by Ruutu was dirty, Kovalchuk said, "I don't know. That's a game situation -- hockey, it's a contact sport. [Ruutu]'s always looking for some dirty stuff."
After the early second-period hit, Kovalchuk lay on the ice in obvious pain. He limped off, but actually tried to return later in the period. He got on the ice, tested his knee, got back on the bench, and skated one more shift. Then he left, and did not return for the third period.
"They put a brace on it. I just tried to come back," Kovalchuk told the Journal-Constitution. "The doctor said, 'You can't hurt it any more.' I was going to try it, but then I didn't feel 100 percent."
Ruutu, for his part, had defended the hit as an intended routine check.
"I meant to finish my check," Ruutu said Wednesday night. "He ducked away and I barely hit him. I didn't change direction. I just went for a hit.
Kovalchuk, originally told by doctors he could miss as much as three weeks, will watch for swelling in his knee after Saturday's workout, then be re-examined early next week.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.