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Friday, November 4, 2011
Kings: Scoring a concern as Penguins pay visit

By Dan Arritt

Kings (6-4-2, 14 points) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (8-3-3, 19 points) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. "Offensively challenged" – That was the best description Kings defenseman Jack Johnson could come up with following a 3-0 loss Thursday night against visiting Edmonton, the second straight game the Kings have been shut out at home. Heading into Friday’s games, the Kings were tied for 27th out of 30 teams in scoring, averaging just 2.19 goals a game. Only the Ducks and New York Islanders were worse. What’s keeping the Kings above water is their defense, which is tied for second in the NHL with a two-goals-against average. Kings coach Terry Murray juggled his lines during the loss against the Oilers, even playing centers Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards together for a stretch, but he’s still searching for the golden key to unlock the scoring puzzle.

2. Man in the middle – Kopitar was the leader of the pack when it came to poor performances against the Oilers. He did not record a shot on goal and finished with a team-high four giveaways and a minus-2 rating. Kopitar, in fact, has had a negative plus-minus rating in three straight games, something he hasn’t experienced in nearly two years. If the Kings are to end their three-game losing streak against Pittsburgh, they'll need their best offensive player to perform near the top of his game. When Kopitar’s playing well, everything else seems to fall into place.

3. Mental and physical block – In recent games, the Kings are finding it difficult to get shots through opposing traffic. The Oilers had 22 blocked shots Thursday night, and Dallas combined for 51 blocks in two games against the Kings last month. The Penguins don’t figure to make the lanes any easier to navigate, as they enter the weekend ranked eighth in the league in blocked shots. They're also fourth in hits, seventh in face-off percentage and eighth in takeaways. That should help explain how they’re still second in the league in victories, despite playing without their best player, Sidney Crosby.

4. Little margin for error – To claim Kings goalie Jonathan Quick is in a slump would be a stretch. More accurately, the offense is in a slump and it’s making Quick look bad. Naturally, he’s not playing as well as when he recorded a franchise-best three consecutive shutouts last month, but he’s still third in the league in goals-against average (1.66) and sixth in save percentage (.941). Quick might need to be even better to get a victory, however. Over the last three seasons, when he has allowed three goals or more, the Kings are a combined 25-43-10.

5. Malkin’s back – The Penguins might not have Crosby back from concussion symptoms, but they do have Evgeni Malkin and he appears to be catching fire after missing several games earlier this season with soreness in his right knee, which was surgically repaired last February. Malkin had two goals and an assist Thursday in a 4-3 overtime loss in San Jose, giving him six points in his last three games. He has been a pest against the Kings in three previous meetings, combining for seven points.