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Kings return to Staples Center to host Penguins

by Davis Harper

PENGUINS (37-14-2) at KINGS (30-19-6)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 7-2-1; Los Angeles 3-6-1

Season series: This is the first of two games. The teams last played one another nearly 27 months ago, on Nov. 5, 2011, when the Pittsburgh Penguins edged the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in a shootout.

Big story: Los Angeles may be nestled in one of the few warm areas of North America in late January, but the Kings are in the midst of a prolonged cold snap. The Kings have lost six of their past seven (1-5-1), and have scored a single goal in the past 236:47 of game time.

“We’re just not quite there right now, and we’re going through a funk, and we need to get out of it,” forward Justin Williams told reporters Tuesday night.

The Kings’ skid has come over a stretch of eight games in 13 days away from Staples Center. Many of the opponents rank among the NHL’s elite. They’ll face another elite team in the Penguins, who are five points clear of the Boston Bruins in the race for the top playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.

Team Scope:

Penguins: Despite winning five of seven, the Penguins took lopsided losses to the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers over the past week. The Penguins bounced back with a 3-0 shutout of the Buffalo Sabres on Monday.

"I'm never going to look at a game, Florida and/or Dallas and say, 'Chalk it up,'" coach Dan Bylsma said. "You can look at a lot of different things … the standings, the points and the gap and traveling from Long Island to Dallas. Sometimes that happens in the course of a season where you look at that and we didn't play well; we didn't play well in Dallas.

"We got back home here and came out on the better side of the game and played the right way."

Kings: L.A.’s struggles can at least in part be chalked up to a rough schedule. The Kings have already played 14 games in January, many against top-notch opponents, including the St. Louis Blues, whom the Kings beat 4-1 to start their eight-game run outside of Staples Center, Boston Bruins, Phoenix Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks.

The Kings subscribe to a rugged, defensive style, and they allow the fewest goals per game (2.04) in the NHL. While the style hasn’t changed, the heavy schedule has worn Los Angeles down. The team’s power play has slowed to a halt, with the Kings converting three of their past 38 opportunities. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, the Penguins kill penalties better than anyone in the NHL (87.6 percent).

“We don’t lose games because of effort, I’ll put it that way,” coach Darryl Sutter said. “I think you see us always push back and push through, but sometimes your top guys don’t have the energy to do it. It was evident on the power play [Monday] night. Guys like [Anze Kopitar] and [Jeff Carter] and [Drew Doughty] – as much as they want to do it, it’s hard minutes for ‘em.”

Who’s hot: With two more assists Monday, Penguins forward Sidney Crosby may be running away with the Art Ross Trophy. Crosby has 74 points, 10 more than New York Islanders forward John Tavares.

Injury report: Pittsburgh forwards Joe Vitale (wrist), Chris Conner (hand), Pascal Dupuis (knee) and Beau Bennett (wrist) and goaltender Tomas Vokoun (pelvis) are out indefinitely. … Los Angeles is healthy.

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