Penguins shut down Kings, roll to win
LOS ANGELES — Brooks Orpik is not easily impressed.
His Penguins managed that with a 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night at Staples Center.
The Kings managed to send through only 31 of 50 attempted shots — and 12 of those came in the final period, when the final score was already determined.
“We gave up one breakaway in the third, but besides that I don't think we gave up one odd-man rush,” Orpik said. “We were just responsible. From the top to the bottom of the lineup, we just thought defense-first, and against a team like that, you have to do it because they are so responsible.”
The performance came without Kris Letang, a Norris Trophy finalist last season.
Coach Dan Bylsma said Letang was too ill to start Thursday, but Letang participated in a morning practice and showed no visible symptoms usually associated with a cold or flu when speaking with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury after the game.
Letang's replacement, Robert Bortuzzo, paced the Penguins with six of their game-best 40 hits.
Captain Sidney Crosby assisted on the first of two power-play goals that turned momentum in favor of the Penguins near the midpoint of the opening period.
With the score tied 1-1, wingers Chris Kunitz — with his career-best 27th goal — and Jussi Jokinen, his 16th, scored 57 seconds apart.
Center Evgeni Malkin, who had staked the Penguins a 1-0 lead 57 seconds into the game, assisted on Jokinen's goal to pull him even with former center Ron Francis for fifth place on the team's all-time scoring list with 613 points.
The Penguins, leaders in the Eastern Conference by seven points, were aware of the Kings' defensive reputation, Crosby said. The Kings led the NHL with a 2.04 goals-against average.
“We knew they were going to play tight,” Crosby said. “Getting that lead allowed us to play patient and stay that way.
“We need more games like that where we shut other teams down.”
Backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff stopped 30 shots for his ninth victory.
Jonathan Quick, neck-and-neck with Buffalo's Ryan Miller for Team USA's starting spot at the upcoming Winter Olympics, was finished after one period for the Kings. He allowed three goals on seven shots.
Miller stopped 31 shots in a loss to the Penguins at Consol Energy Center on Monday night.
Bylsma, the coach of Team USA, said he will choose a starter based off a “body of work” instead of in-person observations from the past several days.
Of course, Bylsma has some regular-job stuff to do before picking an Olympic goalie — specifically, pushing the Penguins back toward their form from mid-November to late-December.
Or the form they flashed against the Kings.
“Loved the start of the game,” Bylsma said, noting “the hunt and fight on the puck” for Malkin's opening goal.
The Penguins capitalized on a 5-on-3 power play to take command after Kings center Anze Kopitar's goal on the advantage pulled his club even in the opening period.
The Kings have scored only 14 goals during a 2-6-1 run, so ceding two to the Penguins in a short span after evening the score was a tough blow to absorb.
“To get the first one and look up (at the scoreboard) and see you've already got one against a team that doesn't give up a lot — I thought that was big,” Bylsma said.
The Penguins' response to taking a two-goal advantage, which became three in the second period on winger Tanner Glass' tally, was something they needed after about a month of disappointing defensive play, Orpik said.
“You look at that lineup, up and down, and I don't see too many holes,” Orpik said of the Kings, who have won the Stanley Cup and lost in the conference final the last two postseasons.
“This is definitely good for our confidence. We've done this sporadically, but we've got to get on a roll where we string some consistent games together with a defensive effort like that.”