January has not been kind to the Los Angeles Kings who were looking to end the month on a positive note, but they ended up in the loss column as they fell on home ice Thursday night to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-1.
Pittsburgh took complete control of the game midway through the first period when Dustin Brown and Jarret Stoll took a pair of minors for slashing and hooking on the same play. With the game tied 1-1, the top powerplay unit in the NHL went to work on the 5-on-3 and converted on a goal by Chris Kunitz. Less than a minute later, it was Jussi Jokinen who fired a wrist shot over the glove of goaltender Jonathan Quick.
Quick was chased out of the net after the Penguins scored three goals on seven shots. Martin Jones replaced him when the teams came out for the start of the second period.
Ironically enough, Jeff Zatkoff got the nod for head coach Dan Bylsma and made 30 saves as he improved to 9-2-1 this season.
“I think that was one of our most complete games defensively, we didn’t give them too many odd-man rushes,” Zatkoff said. “A lot of good box outs by everyone. I’ve seen the puck all the way through the point and even on their open looks they had no traffic.”
The real story in this game was the time of possession. Pittsburgh’s second line of Evgeni Malkin, Jokinen and James Neal proved to be too much for the league’s top defensive team. The trio was constantly pressuring in the offensive zone, cycling high and low while maintaining control of the puck shift after shift.
Malkin started the scoring for Pittsburgh just 57 seconds into the game when he took a backdoor pass from Jokinen right in front of the net as the Penguins took a 1-0 lead. Los Angeles was able to answer on the powerplay when Anze Kopitar ripped a shot from the point for his 16th of the season.
After Pittsburgh scored back-to-back powerplay goals, Tanner Glass netted his fourth of the season in the second period on a wicked backhand shot that fooled Jones coming down the right wing.
“The puck was just sitting in the neutral zone so I just grabbed it and realized I had speed on the defenseman and once I got a step, I just took a backhand,” Glass said. “The powerplay was awesome and I thought we were pretty stingy defensively all night.”
As the game went on, the Kings showed their desperation as they outshot the Penguins 12-3 in the third period and 31-22 overall. After the goal by Kopitar, Zatkoff turned aside all 23 shots in the last two periods.
Bylsma said that this had the making of a 1-0 game going into it but was pleased to see his team cash in on a golden opportunity in the first.
“I loved the start of the game, you saw the powerplay be effective,” Bylsma said. “We got the 5-on-3 and got two goals so you’re looking at a 3-1 lead against a team that doesn’t give up two goals in the first period.”
With Marc-Andre Fleury getting a shutout Monday night against the Buffalo Sabres, it was a shock to Zatkoff that he would get the start on the road against the team who drafted him in 2006.
“When coach told me yesterday I wasn’t really expecting it just because there was some time off between games and [Fleury] was coming off a shutout so I was very thankful for the opportunity,” Zatkoff said.
The Kings have ended this month losing seven of their last eight games while averaging just one goal per game. As the calender turns, they may be on the hunt at the trade deadline in an attempt to boost their struggling offense.
Pittsburgh will continue their road trip Saturday night as they head to Phoenix to take on the Coyotes.
Ekiert’s Three Stars:
3- Evgeni Malkin, Penguins; 1 Goal, 1 Assist
2- Jussi Jokinen, Penguins; 1 Goal, 2 Assists
1- Jeff Zatkoff, Penguins; 30 saves