Pens soaring, Kings slumping ahead of matchup
The Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins were among the newcomers when the NHL doubled to 12 teams in 1967.
Fast forward to their 50th anniversary seasons: One is the defending Stanley Cup champion, and is playing like it, while the other is struggling like an expansion team.
The Kings will try to end a lengthy scoreless drought Thursday night when they take on the Penguins, who go for their third consecutive road win and fifth in a row overall.
Los Angeles (4-6-0) won four straight one-goal games, including three on home ice, from Oct. 20-27. In three games since, the Kings haven't posted a victory — or a goal.
After being blanked in weekend contests at St. Louis and Chicago, the Kings fell 4-0 to the rival Anaheim Ducks at Staples Center on Tuesday. Los Angeles' last goal came from Jeff Carter deep into overtime of a 3-2 home win over the Nashville Predators on Oct. 27.
The club is dealing with a rash of injuries to several key players, including starting goaltender Jonathan Quick (lower body), backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff (groin), defenseman Brayden McNabb (arm) and high-scoring forward Marian Gaborik (foot). Left wingers Andy Andreoff and Teddy Purcell are also day-to-day.
Los Angeles also could be without defenseman Tom Gilbert (no goals, three assists in eight games) due to a suspension. Gilbert faces a hearing from the league Thursday for a charging hit on Anaheim's Nick Ritchie.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who is still in search of career win No. 600, said it is up to the players to power their way through the slump.
“Our game plan, it's not going to change,” he said. “There's nobody coming in on a white horse to play goal for us or score goals or to come up from Ontario (of the American Hockey League). This is our team. I've said it early, meaning two or three games ago, and I'll say it again. Our responsibility is not to use the injuries as an excuse.”
Anze Kopitar doesn't appear to be injured, but he clearly is not producing like a player who has averaged better than 24 goals and 44 assists over the past 10 seasons for Los Angeles. He has four goals and two assists in six career home games versus Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh (7-2-1) extended its winning streaks with a 5-1 victory over the Ducks on Wednesday night in goaltender Matt Murray's season debut.
“That was probably our most complete, solid game,” said Penguins center Matt Cullen, who scored on his 40th birthday. “Over the last few games, we weren't playing as well as we should be and as well as we can, but we were finding ways to win. Tonight was more of a team game. This is how we need to play.”
Murray, who stopped 32 shots, won 15 postseason games to help the Penguins secure their third Stanley Cup last spring. He sustained a broken hand Sept. 19 during the World Cup of Hockey.
Despite the solid debut, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after the Wednesday win that Marc-Andre Fleury would start in net against the Kings. Fleury is 6-2-1 with 3.09 goals-against average this season but just 3-2-0 with a 2.73 GAA, .908 save percentage and a shutout in five career games in Los Angeles.
Sidney Crosby registered an assist against the Ducks, giving him four goals and two helpers in a four-game points streak after missing the first six games with a concussion. Now in his 12th season, Crosby has appeared in just five career games at Staples Center, picking up a goal and five assists.
Two Penguins whom Sutter may want to have his defense swarm are Evgeni Malkin, who has three goals and an assist in five career games in Los Angeles, and Chris Kunitz, who scored four times with two assists over the same number of games at Staples Center.
Malkin scored Wednesday, giving him four goals in a three-game streak, while Kunitz has tallied one assist in each of his past three games.