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At the Rink: Penguins at Kings

by Curtis Zupke

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Kings don’t face the Pittsburgh Penguins often, but they don’t have to think hard about the keys to stopping them.

“Their two big stars,” defenseman Jake Muzzin said in reference to Pittsburgh centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin before the Kings played Pittsburgh at Staples Center.

Malkin has six goals and four assists in six career games against Los Angeles, and Crosby has a goal and seven assists in six games against the Kings.

“Special players need special attention like that and you’ve got to be hard on them,” Muzzin said. “Not really give them room. You want to limit their time as best as you can.”

This is the fourth time in two weeks that the Kings will catch an opponent playing the back end of a back-to-back sequence. Pittsburgh beat the Anaheim Ducks, 5-2, on Friday. The Kings are 2-1-0 in that scenario, but coach Darryl Sutter said he doesn’t think it’s an advantage.

“That’s overrated,” Sutter said. “It’s been part of the schedule forever. There’s nothing to it. When you come out here, it’s a 40-minute drive from Anaheim to Los Angeles. A lot of guys are way better the second night than the first night.”

Los Angeles is two points behind the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames for second and third in the Pacific Division, which represent the final two guaranteed spots in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Vancouver and Calgary own the first tiebreaker of regulation/overtime wins.

After Saturday, 11 of the Kings’ final 17 games are on the road. For Sutter, the tough part of the schedule is that the Kings have played every other day for 12 days straight, he said. They’ve largely used the same lineup, which forces Sutter to manage their rest and preparation.

“It’s the communication and trust with them and seeing what they want or seeing what they need,” Sutter said. “At the same time, some of the boys that aren’t playing very much - make sure that they’re not losing conditioning. They may not be skating, but make that they’re fitness level is up and there’s guys that are only playing seven or eight minutes, that means they’re not getting enough either in terms of what the machine needs. It’s a balancing act.”

Pittsburgh reportedly did not have a morning skate so it is unclear if they would make lineup changes to their lineup.

Malkin took a share of the NHL scoring lead with his 67th point Friday, on a goal and an assist. Crosby scored an empty-net goal for his 21st goal. The Penguins are 7-0-0 this season when Malkin and Crosby score.

Here are the projected lineups:

PENGUINS

David PerronSidney CrosbyPatric Hornqvist

Chris KunitzEvgeni Malkin - Blake Comeau

Beau BennettBrandon SutterDaniel Winnik

Nick SpalingMaxim LapierreCraig Adams

Paul MartinKris Letang

Rob ScuderiIan Cole

Derrick PouliotBen Lovejoy

Marc-Andre Fleury

Thomas Greiss

Injured: Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Olli Maatta (upper body), Christian Ehrhoff (concussion symptoms)

Scratched: Steve Downie

KINGS

Marian GaborikAnze KopitarTrevor Lewis

Dwight KingJeff CarterTyler Toffoli

Dustin BrownJarret StollJustin Williams

Kyle CliffordNick ShoreJordan Nolan

Robyn RegehrDrew Doughty

Brayden McNabbAndrej Sekera

Jake MuzzinMatt Greene

Jonathan Quick

Martin Jones

Injured: Alec Martinez (concussion symptoms), Tanner Pearson (leg)

Scratched: Andy Andreoff, Jamie McBain

Suspended: Slava Voynov

Status report: Fleury is expected to start. He is 5-2-0 with a 1.95 goals-against average against the Kings. … Martinez is skating on his own but remains “a ways away” from practicing with the team, assistant general manager Rob Blake said.

Who’s hot: Hornqvist scored two goals Friday and has six goals in six games. Malkin had his 18th multipoint game this season and extended his point streak to seven games, the longest active streak in the NHL. … Gaborik had a two-goal game Thursday, the second time this season he has scored two power-play goals in a game. Kopitar has four points in his past two games.

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