Pittsburgh Penguins Put Playoff Habits To Work Against Champion Kings


Oct 30, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Los Angeles Kings left wing David Van der Gulik (36) shoots the puck up ice ahead of Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter (16) during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins keep telling that everything they do is tailored toward creating good habits for the playoffs.

Thursday night at Consol Energy Center, the Pens met the crown princes of that approach, the two-time Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. Although L.A.’s regular-season performances are never all that impressive, the way they play translates extremely well to the postseason, where they’ve won 10 of their past 11 springtime series.

In the five full seasons under former coach Dan Bylsma, the Penguins did nearly the opposite, going 4-5 in playoff series after routinely making easy work of the 82-game regular season. Part of Mike Johnston’s goal is to take some priority off this time of year in favor of that time of year.

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Before we go any further, let’s acknowledge that the Kings were not at full strength Thursday, with No. 1 center Anze Kopitar and top sniper Marian Gaborik injured and former Conn Smythe-winning goalie Jonathan Quick getting the night off. The Penguins’ 3-0 victory wasn’t a perfect referendum on the state of both clubs by any means.

Nevertheless, there was a lot to like on Halloween eve from the Pittsburgh perspective. The Pens were on their details for 60 minutes, winning 50-50 pucks, clearing rebounds and bodies, and staying “below” the puck in the defensive zone. They also were the more disciplined team, keeping their emotions (mostly) in check during a physical – and sometimes dirty – game.

In short, they earned two points by doing the things that win when everything’s on the line.

The Pens also continued their more direct approach on the attack, exemplified by the third goal of the evening when Sidney Crosby took the puck hard to the net and Chris Kunitz cleaned up the garbage to cap a two-goal game. The revamped power play also remained dominant without relying too much on flash; instead, efficient puck movement and directing high quantities of shots to the goalmouth remain the keys.

Gushing too much would defy the edict to not fuss about the regular season, but when the process is that good, it’s OK to celebrate the results.