Los Angeles Hockey: Evgeni Malkin

Kings: Scoring a concern as Penguins pay visit

November, 4, 2011
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.

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Kings: Crosby is not the Penguins only concern

February, 10, 2011
What the locals are saying ...

Pittsburgh continues to wait anxiously for super Penguin Sidney Crosby to return from post-concussion symptoms. Crosby has been out since Jan. 5 but is still second in the league with 32 goals.

The Penguins are even thinner up front after the season-ending knee injury last week to Evgeni Malkin, an undisclosed injury to Chris Kunitz and a four-game suspension to Matt Cooke. Out of desperation, Pittsburgh recalled four players from the AHL and they're scheduled to be in the lineup against the Kings.

One of the recalls, Brett Sterling, 26, grew up in Pasadena and played competitive hockey in Southern California until moving to Ann Arbor, Mich., when he was 16 to train with the U.S. National Team Development Program.

Kings: Next stop up the mountain is Pittsburgh

February, 10, 2011
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.