It could have been worse for the Los Angeles Kings. I think the most demoralizing possible outcome against the Pittsburgh Penguins would have been getting shut out by former Manchester Monarch Jeff Zatkoff. That didn't happen, but the actual result on Thursday wasn't much better: a 4-1 loss at home. This one was over early, after a pivotal moment in the first period...
The Penguins won an early offensive-zone draw, which came after the puck got caught in Willie Mitchell's skates and the Kings got trapped on defense. Quick made a glove save, but the puck bounced loose. James Neal's shot was blocked, but the bounce at the side of the net was controlled on the backhand by Jussi Jokinen. Jokinen made a perfect blind pass to Evgeni Malkin, who was wide open on the other side of the crease. Suddenly, the Kings had even more of a mountain to climb.
That one-goal deficit must have felt pretty steep, given the way things have gone lately on offense. The Kings wisely followed up by putting the one player capable of scoring out on the ice. Anze Kopitar's line (he was still centering Dwight King and Jeff Carter at this point) generated the Kings' first dominant shift of the game to get things going. After Dustin Brown drew a penalty, the Kings' stagnant power play tried a new strategy: give Kopitar the puck and let him go to work. Drew Doughty stickhandled a few times in close proximity to Jeff Zatkoff but ended up passing back out to Kopitar at the top. Kopitar took his time, drifted to his left, and then unleashed a big slapshot which beat Zatkoff up high. The hilarious thing about this goal: Slava Voynov had broken his stick and skated back to the bench, so even though it was a power play, the Kings were basically 4-on-4.
33 seconds later, Jarret Stoll hooked Evgeni Malkin, and the Kings were back on the penalty kill as the game went to commercial. When the broadcast returned, a nasty surprise was in store: the refs had also called Dustin Brown for a slash, at the same time. This meant trouble. The first 45 seconds of the 5-on-3 were spent entirely in the Kings' zone, and after Willie Mitchell blocked two shots, the Penguins simply went around. Sidney Crosby fed down low to Jokinen, who fed Chris Kunitz in the slot. Quick had no chance. Once things went to 5-on-4, the Kings' penalty kill looked a little less helpless. They still only delayed the Pens for a minute, though; Jokinen continued his dominant performance with a perfect wrist shot into the top corner off a rush. Two minutes after tying the game, it felt like game over.
The Kings responded by pulling Quick and inserting Martin Jones to start the second. A decent start to the period resulted in nothing, and a little over halfway through the period, Tanner Glass (sorry, Langluy) made sure it really was game over. Going one-on-one against Robyn Regehr, Glass skated wide and fired an innocent backhand at the net. That backhand was destined for the top corner, and Jones didn't quite have the angle right. As Nick Nickson and Daryl Evans mentioned on the radio broadcast after the goal, the Kings were basically deflated after that point, as they (and 18,118 fans) seemed pretty aware that they weren't about to get three goals in 30 minutes.
Is there any point in writing about the third period? I guess I'll mention the noteworthy things. The Kings got two power plays: one resulted in one shot on goal, the other resulted in one shot on goal for Pittsburgh. LA dominated the latter half of the period in shots, primarily due to score effects. Tyler Toffoli got a few shifts with Kopitar and Carter. He finished the night with the team's top Corsi numbers, though he also got the highest percentage of offensive zone starts and faced the easiest competition. And no one scored.
The Kings' official highlight page for this game neatly sums things up. The two highlights: a lone goal, and a breakaway which got stopped. This skid needs to end.