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Penguins turn the tables on the Kings

LOS ANGELES -- The Pittsburgh Penguins gave the Los Angeles Kings a dose of their own medicine.

Lauding the Kings for their stifling defense-first, physical play in the couple of days leading up to the teams' game Thursday night at Staples Center, it was the Penguins who played that style of game -- and threw in a couple of buckets of offense -- in a 4-1 win.

Rookie goaltender Jeff Zatkoff made 30 saves to improve to 9-2-1 and keep the Kings mired in an offensive slump.

The Penguins played without defenseman Kris Letang, who was a lineup scratch. No details on his status were immediately available, but Letang did not practice on Wednesday. Coach Dan Bylsma at that time said Letang was given a "maintenance day," which often means a player is dealing with a minor ailment.

It was the 20th game Letang has missed this season, including the first nine because of a knee injury sustained during training camp, and another 10 from mid-December to early January because of an unspecified injury.

A finalist last season for the Norris Trophy, which goes to the NHL's top defenseman, Letang has 10 goals and six assists in 34 games this season.

Robert Bortuzzo took Letang's spot in the lineup alongside Letang's normal defense partner, Rob Scuderi.

Los Angeles entered the game with just two goals over its previous four games, including being shut out twice. Its team 2.31 goals per game entering the game was among the lowest in NHL, but its but 2.00 team goals-against average was best in league.

Zatkoff made his 11th start and is 9-0-1 in his past 11 decisions.

Bylsma said he planned to split the starts for his goaltender on this two-game road trip, which concludes Saturday at Phoenix.

Zatkoff drew the game in Los Angeles for a few reasons.

"We looked at previous records and success against both of these teams and Jeff playing against his former organization," Bylsma said.

Zatkoff was selected by the Kings in the third round of the 2006 NHL draft but did not make it to the NHL until this season with the Penguins.

"When I told Jeff (Wednesday) he was going to be playing this game, he was pretty excited about it," Bylsma said. "I'm glad I told him (Wednesday) so he could get excited about it (Wednesday) and settle in to the task (Thursday)."

Bylsma also has a history of giving his goaltenders at least one start when the Penguins hold a dads' trip. This season, the team instead is holding a moms' trip, and it's this road excursion.

It didn't take the Penguins long to open the scoring in front of those moms.

Evgeni Malkin, stationed near the left goal post, converted a slick backhanded pass through the crease from linemate Jussi Jokinen for a 1-0 lead 57 seconds into the first period.

The goal ended a two-game points drought for Malkin.

The Penguins entered the game with what seemed like a distinct advantage on their penalty kill. They were ranked first in the NHL at 87.6 percent, while the Kings' power play was bumping along near the bottom of the league at 13.8 percent and had gone 0-for-18 over the previous five games.

But Los Angeles struck on the power play after Penguins winger Chris Kunitz was assessed a hooking minor, tying the score, 1-1, on team leading scorer Anze Kopitar's blast from the center point at 9:32 of the first period.

Kunitz got some redemption and the Penguins regained the lead 1:18 later. Los Angeles' Jarret Stoll and Dustin Brown were both called for minor penalties at 10:05.

From the slot, Kunitz scored during the ensuing Penguins five-on-three power play for a 2-1 Penguins lead, at 10:50 of the first period.

It was Kunitz's 27th goal, setting a career high.

Jokinen, who already had two assists, was set up by Malkin and gave the Penguins a 3-1 lead during the remaining five-on-four power play, at 11:47 of the first period.

The Penguins scored three goals on seven shots in the first period, prompting Kings coach Darryl Sutter to pull starting goaltender Jonathan Quick and replace him with backup Martin Jones.

Los Angeles made a push at the start of the second period, registering six of the first eight shots, but the Penguins stood firm and eventually got the next goal.

Tanner Glass pushed the Penguins' lead to 4-1 at 11:46 of the second period when, from the right dot, he fired a backhanded shot inside the far post.

(c)2014 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Distributed by MCT Information Services


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