With just two total goals in their previous four games, the Los Angeles Kings were searching for their offense entering Thursday night’s matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins at Staples Center.
Thanks to the visiting Penguins, the Kings are still looking.
Jussi Jokinen recorded a goal and two assists in the first period as Pittsburgh took a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes on its way to a 4-1 win over struggling Los Angeles. Evgeni Malkin had a goal and assisted on another for the Penguins (38-14-2, 78 points), who got 30 saves from backup netminder Jeff Zatkoff in capturing their fourth victory in five games.
Chris Kunitz and Tanner Glass also scored goals for Pittsburgh, while defenseman Matt Niskanen registered a pair of assists. The Penguins netted two goals on three power-play chances in the first period – another successful night for the NHL’s best team at making opponents pay for their indiscretions.
Anze Kopitar had the lone goal for the stumbling Kings, losers of seven of eight and 13 of 18 since Dec. 23. Los Angeles (30-20-6, 66 points) has scored more than twice only once in its past 11 games, so the Penguins’ early outburst must’ve seemed rather daunting. United States Olympic team member Jonathan Quick didn’t last beyond the opening period in the Kings net, making just four saves on seven shots.
The Kings entered the evening allowing the fewest goals per game in the NHL at 2.04, but the Penguins put three on the board in the opening 12 minutes. Malkin deposited a blind backhand pass from Jokinen into an open net just 57 seconds into the game, capping a scrambling play in the Kings’ zone.
Los Angeles knotted it up at 9:32 when Kopitar leaned into a full slap shot from the top of the left circle, beating Zatkoff cleanly on the Kings’ first power play of the night. But then the top-ranked Penguins advantage unit went to work, as Jarret Stoll and Dustin Brown were both called for minor penalties within seconds.
Pittsburgh fully exploited the extended 5-on-3 power play that resulted, pumping in two goals in 57 seconds. Kunitz netted the first one, finishing a quick combination passing play started by Sidney Crosby and Jokinen on the left side of the ice. Kunitz’ 27th of the season tied him with Crosby for the team lead.
Jokinen was the closer on the next one, rifling a right-circle wrister over Quick’s glove for his 16th goal. Malkin held the puck in at the point to earn the primary assist, with Jokinen looking off Crosby on the left side before choosing to shoot.
Rookie goalie Martin Jones replaced Quick to start the second, and the Kings responded by firing seven of the first eight shots of the frame. However, led by the Malkin line, the Penguins slowly regained command of the puck, culminating in Glass’ second goal in as many games. The bottom-six winger tossed an accurate backhand shot under the crossbar from the right dot with 8:16 left in the period.
Much like they did to start the second, the Kings pushed back to begin the third, putting pressure on the Penguins’ team defense and Zatkoff. The first-year NHLer stood up the challenge with a couple good saves on Kopitar and a sharp glove stop on Justin Williams‘ short breakaway. For good measure, Zatkoff denied Kopitar’s slick backhand move with under seven minutes to play.
The Pens close out their two-game trip Saturday night in Phoenix. Faceoff against the Coyotes is set for 8 p.m. Eastern.
Notes: Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang was a last-minute scratch due to an illness. Wingers Chuck Kobasew and Andrew Ebbett joined him in the press box…The Penguins’ No. 1 penalty-killing unit dispatched the Kings’ final three opportunities after Kopitar’s early goal.