There was magic in the Pittsburgh offense versus LA Saturday afternoon, but two things made it fail: not enough of it, and a goalie in Jonathan Quick who was better than the shooters the Penguins offered.
Witness this: at one point in the game, the Pens had just 3 shots, to the Kings’ 15. But amongst those three was a chance where Kessel and Malkin came in together on a two-on-one and passed the puck back and forth until it went wide left in the slot. The shot came, Quick did the splits and thrust out his blocker, but the shot went wide. He did it again later in period two, when Kessel passed to David Perron, who launched the shot from the left again and the blocker made the save this time.
By that time, the Kings were up 1-0, but Fleury in the Penguins’ net had made a couple of beauties of his own. One was when Carter put a puck to Tyler Toffoli and Fleury had to do the splits with the catching glove outstretched just on top of the pad. You could read it two ways: great glove save on explosive positioning, or Toffoli shot the puck into the outstretched glove. Putting it six inches higher would have resulted in a goal.
The Pens weren’t great in the areas of the game aside from offense. They took unnecessary penalties, one of which resulted in an LA goal right off the faceoff.
Another bad play was Phil Kessel giving the puck away in the offensive zone. Now, give him credit, he chased it all the way back to his own end, and he caught up with the puck carrier. But when he did, the pass went away from Gaborik to Ehrhoff, who was cruising alone down the slot. He fired a wrister straight past Fleury long side. It was 2-0.
The Kings got another one when a puck was blocked by Muzzin and bounced out of the LA zone behind the Pittsburgh defense. It quickly turned into a two-on-one with Toffoli and Lucic being the two. Lucic held the puck rather than passing it, and launched it by the goalie. 3-0.
But that one hadn’t even been completely announced (poor Dave Joseph) when the Pens set up in the zone, put a puck to the point, and saw it get by Quick. It was a slapshot, and Quick did the goalie arm-shake, like he thought he should have had it. It was 3-1. No need to panic, right?
Well, the Kings responded with goal four. Kopitar tied up three men at the boards, Dustin Brown swept in and grabbed the puck, and he passed it out to Muzzin. His shot went in. The shot total? 27 for LA, eight for Pittsburgh.
But the Pens would get one more when the Kings got lazy in their own end. A puck came out from behind the net to the corner. Right then, Maata broke from the boards to the center of the ice, leaving his checker, Lucic, standing still. He backhanded the puck past Quick to make it 4-2. The second period concluded with the Kings outshooting the visitors 28-11, so you might say that despite not a lot of offense, the Penguins were well in it.
You’d likely be right to guess that Coach Sutter of the Kings reminded his players of the cost of collapse at the break, too.
The third period saw the Penguins come out dominating. They didn’t fire away at will, but they did very quickly make the game 4-3. The play came off a pass that was disguised as a shot, taken from the point. Crosby was on the far (right) edge of the crease, and he redirected it up. The puck hit the crossbar and bounced down behind Quick. The shots were 32-13 at this moment.
The teams traded penalties after that, with neither one scoring, then the Pens jumped all over the Kings in the LA zone. But what a turnabout—Gaborik broke out and down the ice. He was hooked and awarded a penalty shot. The try was weak-ish, a straight down the middle shot at the five-hole. On replay, it seemed apparent that the spot between the legs was open, however.
The Carter-Toffoli-Lucic trio turned a good chance into a Fleury blocker save right after, with the puck going wide from middle to right to left and Fleury doing the splits. It was an entertaining game, in other words, one which would cause both netminders to be heading for the salt baths afterwards, despite the fact that the Pens had but 20 shots. The Kings nearly doubled that, by the way, with 37. The faceoffs were even minus one (30 Kings, 29 Pens) and the hits dominated by LA. The Kings, by the way, ended up scoring one more goal, an empty net one, with Lucic guiding the puck into the net from mid-zone.
The Penguins’ coach summed up his team’s loss saying, “They held the puck down low and gave us a little bit of trouble down below our circles. Our execution on our breakouts weren’t sharp.” He talked about that a while, and then said, “We had the chance in the last five minutes to come back, though obviously we didn’t get the goal. But our last half of the first period and second period, I didn’t like at all.”
He said the Kings counter quickly, and that his team left guys behind them on the breakouts of LA. “Our puck movement and compete wasn’t what it needed to be, especially early on today.” Indeed, and in some measures, the Kings are fortunate to have survived without ending up going to OT.
The Kings face Tampa Bay Sunday. Steve Yzerman was in attendance as a pre-scout on Saturday.
The Penguins head down the road to Anaheim for a 5pm start.
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And if you like the LA Kings, you’ll love my book, Facing Wayne Gretzky.