Kings (29-22-2, 60 points) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (34-17-4, 72) at CONSOL Energy Center, 4 p.m. PT
Five storylines to track:
1. Back to the climb – Last time we checked in, Kings fans were partying in the streets because their team finally moved back into the top eight in the Western Conference standings. Well, the Kings then took four days off, just enough time for a couple teams to pass them in the standings. They’ll need to re-establish a foothold and begin another ascent in Pittsburgh, a place they haven’t visited since March 2009 and haven’t won since October 2003.
2. Battered Penguins – Pittsburgh forward Sidney Crosby provided plenty of headlines the first three months of the season, building a 13-point lead over the league’s next highest scorer while running his point streak to 25 games. Then he went down with a concussion Jan. 5 and the Penguins lost three of four. They regrouped to win eight of nine. Now it’s third-leading scorer Evgeni Malkin who suffered a season-ending knee injury Friday and, once again, the Penguins have gone off track, losing two straight. With Crosby still out, the Kings may have caught them on a downswing.
3. Where art thou Kopitar? – A collective sigh of relief filled Staples Center when Anze Kopitar scored in the first period Jan. 15 against Edmonton, ending a streak of nine consecutive games without a goal. Time to get back on that 40-goal pace? Hardly. He has gone another nine games without a goal and now has one since Dec. 26. Kopitar is officially on pace to score the fewest goals since his rookie year in a 2006-07. Not the direction he should be headed at this point of his career.
4. Hitting the wall? – Kings rookie Kyle Clifford has seen his ice time dip to under 10 minutes a game in the last three, the first time that’s happened since early December and two of those games included five-minute fighting majors. With veteran left wing Marco Sturm close to coming off injured reserve due to tendinitis in his knee, the team will need to make room on the roster. Could Clifford be the odd man out?
5. Down the hall –Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi is the go-to guy for restaurant recommendations. He spent his first five seasons in Pittsburgh, the last of which culminated with a Stanley Cup title in 2009. This will be Scuderi’s first time in the visitor role against the Penguins. Known best for his defensive abilities, Scuderi scored his second goal of the season Saturday in Calgary, doubling his best season output in Pittsburgh.