Coming into the game, the Los Angeles Kings were a buzzsaw. 5-0-2 in their last seven; and after tonight they've scored 5+ goals in five of the last seven games. They showed why, with superior zone time, cycling, shots on goal. Usually all the aspects the Penguins outmatch others, that's what LA did to them tonight, and they pulled away late in the third period to get a deserving result, a 5-2 victory.
Right off the bat in the first period, the Kings collected a puck in their zone and rushed it up the ice, Justin Williams crissed, Anze Kopitar crossed and Kris Letang was somewhere in the middle. That's not a good equation. Kopitar showed the skill that's why he's currently the league's leading scorer when he stepped up, smoothly went to the backhand and beat Marc-Andre Fleury cleanly for a goal.
The next shift the Penguins put Jordan Staal out with Chris Conner and Matt Cooke. On a breakout Jay McKee (of all people) ended up driving towards the net. Conner dropped the puck to Staal who slapped it to the net. It found paydirt 1-1.
The very fact a defensive defenseman like McKee finds himself in the position to be a little ahead of the play and ends up driving to the net just shows how much the entire team has bought into the system that Dan Bylsma wants them to play. When Jay McKee is your lead force center driving the net and a guy like Jordan Staal knows to pull up, everyone's clicking, everyone's on the same page. In a nutshell that's why Pittsburgh's had so much success since Bylsma took over.
In the second period Brooks Orpik took a shot that Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby waived their sticks at. Kunitz got a piece and it was enough to beat Jonathan Quick. IT was 2-1 Pens after two, despite being out-shot and generally out-played they took a lead into the second intermission. It wouldn't last though.
In the third Kopitar would tie it. He beat Crosby on a faceoff and found Williams for a shot. The shot found Kopitar behind the net (as the puck always seems to find the good ones) and he popped out for the easy stuff in to tie the game at 2.
Following a real sloppy power-play by the Pens (what else is new recently), Dustin Brown made a great pass to Jarret Stoll and he buried it. 3-2 Kings. The very next shift the Kings kept the pressure up, Craig Adams was no match for Alexander Frolov and he fired a pass out that bounced around and Michal Handzus got the goal, with Wayne Simmonds right there to get it too. 4-2 Kings just like that.
And in the "piling it on" folder, the Kings got zone time, they cycled well and drew a penalty. With the extra man they got some great passes, caught the Pens running around and Stoll made a great pass to Dustin Brown for an easy slam dunker. 5-2 Kings.
- The goalies really settled down after two goalies in the first 1:10 of gameplay, for a while at least. Fleury stopped the next 24 shots, and the only way the Pens beat Quick was a deflection out front. MAF got victimized in a flurry in the 3rd, but let's absolve him because the Kings applied a lot of pressure and outworked a lot of Pittsburgh players to get their goals.
- It's not even that Kopitar scored his two goals: the way he did it was almost effortless and very skillful. If he played in the eastern time zone he'd be one of the most hyped players in the game. He's definitely one of those guys like a Rick Nash or Ilya Kovalchuk that is worth watching any chance you get. A supremely talented player and Kopitar put on one of the best performances tonight that I've seen all season.
- It should be noted that Kris Letang played 24:49, and though Kopitar made him look foolish twice, he escaped with an even plus/minus rating. Fellow youngster Alex Goligoski logged 21:32 of ice-time and was a +1.
- Not to say the usually solid four more defensive defenseman (Jay McKee, Brooks Orpik, Martin Skoula and Mark Eaton) deserve all the blame; but that foursome combined to have a plus/minus rating of -7 (all were negatives except McKee). Pittsburgh's not going to win many games under those circumstances, especially with the power-play not clicking.
- Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin combined for 10 of the Pens total of 23 shots on goal. Guerin got a couple wonderful feeds but couldn't convert (including one that hit Quick's pad and then the post). Can't knock those two for a lack of effort, but the results generally just haven't paid dividends.
- Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis and Ruslan Fedotenko -- three veteran wingers all relied on for contributions didn't fare as well. That trio combined for almost 47 minutes of ice-time but only got one shot on goal (Fedotenko's) and weren't dangerous. They were flat out overmatched by their counter-parts in guys like Stoll, Brown and Frolov.
- Tough night for Craig Adams too. While he registered a game high 8 hits (including one on Matt Greene that dislodged the glass), Adams was a -3 and lost 9 of 12 faceoffs.
- As far as diminutive forwards with the first name of Chris go: Conner > Bourque. Maybe it's because Conner's two years older, maybe it's because he's got 54 more NHL games, but whatever the reason, Conner seems more poised, a better skater and makes better decisions with the puck.
Overall, no excuses, the Kings worked very hard, played a superior game, got some solid goaltending and deserved the win. They displayed all the usual tenets of Pittsburgh Penguins hockey, but did so with better skill and execution from top to bottom. One can't help but wonder what the outcome would have been if Pittsburgh was fortunate enough to have their four key injured players (Malkin, Gonchar, Kennedy, Talbot) but let that take nothing away from the display LA put on. Sure would be nice to see a seven game series between these two teams, but that is a long ways away.
Pittsburgh's franchise best of seven straight road wins to open a season is now history, but they still have a big chance to have a winning west coast road trip if they get the result in San Jose on Saturday. The Sharks are no easy task, so time to put this one behind us and move north in California to see what can happen.