The Pittsburgh Penguins made one of the biggest splashes this past off season by acquiring the goal scoring wonder Phil Kessel. On a team that already had elite centers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, it was expected that Pittsburgh would be one of the top offensive teams in the NHL. Naturally, they came into their game against the Los Angeles Kings with the 22nd ranked offense at 5v5. A lot of the reason they have remained in games is the stellar play of goalie Marc-André Fleury, whose play has sparked comparisons to his performance during the Penguins' Stanley Cup run. His play looked to be the deciding factor against a Los Angeles Kings team that likes to disappoint their fans with inability to convert on scoring chances.
The Kings started the game strongly against what may well have been a tired Penguins squad after their win against the San Jose Sharks last night. The Kings would go on to outshoot the Penguins in the opening period 10 to 3, and that includes a power play for each side. Even though the Kings began to generate more chances toward the end of the period, it was very dull hockey.
The snorefest looked to continue into the second period, with the Kings eventually going up on shots 20 to 4 early in the second. It certainly began to look as if Fleury was going to rob the Kings of any momentum from their control of play early on. That was, until, Rob Scuderi turned to be the gift that keeps on giving for Kings fans as he put a puck over the glass for his second penalty. The Kings only took four seconds to notch a power play goal thanks to a clean faceoff win by Jeff Carter. Jake Muzzin softly passed the puck to Drew Doughty who was able to beat Fleury glove-side as he slid toward Doughty to meet the shot.
The initial goal seemed to stir something deep and primal within the Penguins, or the person asleep on the job simply woke up and started jamming the 'offense' button. Near the five minute mark of the second period, shot attempts and scoring chances took off steeply for both teams, who began to trade some rushes and reassure us that we were not, in fact, watching a New Jersey Devils game.
Shortly following the power play goal and the onset of offense, the Kings bookended a period of two and a half minutes in which the teams combined for four goals, three of which were the Kings'. The first of the series was a beautiful goal by Christian Ehrhoff who joined the play and patiently waited for the perfect shot. He got very excited for his first goal as a King, and so did we! Watch it a few or seven times down below, why don't you?
Milan Lucic followed up with the Kings' third goal as he and Tyler Toffoli entered the zone in a 2 on 1 scenario. They patiently skated toward the goal until Lucic saw an opening on the five hole as Fleury weighed his options. The next goal was earned by Anze Kopitar, even though he was only the secondary assist on it. Kopitar managed to pin the puck in the offensive zone against three other Penguins players through a shift change. Dustin Brown eventually came to help and was able to pass it to a wide open Jake Muzzin away from the Kopitar fan club that had formed.
The Penguins did not simply roll over after going down four to one, and they were able to get a second goal just inside two minutes left when Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin tripped over each other behind the net. Despite this increase in offense, the Kings still entered the second intermission leading shots 28 to 11.
Butts clenched much tighter just three minutes into the third when a perfect Sidney Crosby redirection beat Jonathan Quick for the third time on just 13 shots. What followed this goal was the close, exciting game most of us would have expected going in. Both teams continued to threaten and either team could have scored the next goal. Milan Lucic finally allowed fans a sigh of relief when he beat two Penguins (including the speedy Kessel) to a loose puck and a wide open net waiting for him.
Footloose Looch pic.twitter.com/eyKCHh6dOf— LA Kings (@LAKings) December 5, 2015
The Kings scored five goals for the first time this year and solidified their hold on the Pacific Division. Three of the four non empty-net goals came from defenseman, and Jake Muzzin had a three point night. The strongest accolades perhaps belong to Anze Kopitar, though. Beside his assist on Muzzin's goal, he absolutely terrorized the Pittsburgh defense early on with his strong play on the puck. At one point, he simply shrugged a defender to the ice as he attempted to follow Kopitar behind the net. He also neutralized Malkin, who has simply been on a tear as of late. It's time to pay the man.
Oh, and for those of you on Jordan #WealWatch, he played tonight for an injured Trevor Lewis. He didn't do anything egregiously bad, and I saw him make a nice play to tie up a stick right in front of the crease for a centering pass that never really connected, but totally would have been worth a hearty thumbs up. The Kings play again tomorrow, so we may yet see him again soon.