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Penguins bracing for 'heavy' Kings in rare meeting

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Goalie Jonathan Quick is a big reason why the L.A. Kings lead the NHL with a 2.0 goals-against average.

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By Josh Yohe
Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 10:06 p.m.
 

The glitzy team from the blue-collar town will take on the blue-collar team from the glitzy town Thursday.

Many of the Penguins sound unsure of what to expect.

The Penguins and Kings rarely meet, having last played Nov. 5, 2011, but will face off Thursday at Staples Center.

“I think this is the kind of game we've been needing to play,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said.

Niskanen's thinking is simple.

The Penguins can win talent contests against any NHL team and have emerged as one of the Eastern Conference's best teams. But many of the powerful teams in the West play a different style that sometimes gives the Penguins trouble.

The Kings, much like the Boston team that eliminated the Penguins from the playoffs in four games last spring, play an exceptionally physical, defensive-oriented game.

For the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in five years, adapting to this style and beating teams like the Kings figures to be paramount.

“They've been an established team for a few years now,” Penguins defenseman Paul Martin said. “We don't see them often, but we know how good they are, and we know what to expect.”

The Penguins probably shouldn't expect too many quality scoring opportunities against the Kings. And if they arise, beating goaltender Jonathan Quick won't be a simple task.

Los Angeles leads the NHL with a 2.00 goals-against-average. After a significant injury, Quick is back in strong form.

“Falling behind against them is tough because they know how to close out games so well,” Martin said. “I've watched them and how they play. That's a big, physical hockey team — just a really, really good team.”

Since the Penguins and Kings last met, the Kings won the Stanley Cup for the first time. While not a high-scoring team, Los Angeles prefers to pound teams into submission with its physical play while slowing the game down to a crawl at times, a style that has benefited teams like Boston and New Jersey against the Penguins.

“They're a heavy team,” coach Dan Bylsma said of the Kings' physical play.

The Penguins are one of the NHL's smaller teams and believe beating Los Angeles will require a gritty effort.

“I'm interested in seeing how it goes,” Niskanen said. “They play playoff-style hockey all the time. It should be a good one.”

Note: Bylsma said Wednesday that center Zach Sill, recently demoted to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, will miss eight to 12 weeks because of a wrist injury.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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