KINGS (18-8-1) at PENGUINS (15-10-2)
TV: SN1, TVA Sports 2, FS-W, ROOT
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins will be without defenseman Kris Letang when they face the Los Angeles Kings at Consol Energy Center on Friday.
Letang did not participate in the morning skate after playing 22:51 on 33 shifts against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday. Letang missed two games, including the Penguins' 5-3 loss to the Kings on Dec. 5, with an undisclosed injury before returning against Colorado.
Penguins coach Mike Johnston said Letang sustained a separate upper-body injury against the Avalanche and will not be available for the next little bit.
"With the pairs, we will maneuver them around tonight depending on our matchups," Johnston said. "With Letang out, I think everybody knows what we miss in Letang, and what we need to make up. … Getting out of your zone is really critical against a team like Los Angeles."
After scoring 11 goals and 54 points in a resurgent 2014-15 season, Letang has not experienced the same level of success through the early portion of 2015-16. He has one goal and 14 points, and is tied for second-to-last in the NHL with a minus-14 rating.
Defenseman David Warsofsky skated in Letang's place Friday alongside Olli Maatta on the Penguins' top pairing. He also replaced Letang at center point on Pittsburgh's top power-play unit.
Defenseman Rob Scuderi will re-enter the lineup after being a healthy scratch against the Avalanche.
Although Johnston said the defensive pairings will be fluid against Los Angeles, defensemen Ben Lovejoy and Brian Dumoulin are unlikely to be separated. The two have formed the Penguins' most consistent pairing, but Lovejoy said the defense as a whole can substantially improve from its previous performance against the Kings.
"We need to manage pucks through the neutral zone," Lovejoy said. "We are so dangerous when we're smart through the neutral zone. And we turned far too many over in that first period and it gives the other team such an edge, such an advantage, because everybody's going the wrong way. The way we play, [Johnston] really wants the defense up in the play. When we have costly turnovers at the blue line, the forwards are going the wrong way, the 'D' are going the wrong way, and it puts us in a tough spot."
Kings coach Darryl Sutter said he'd rather evaluate his players against a defenseman like Letang, who will not face Los Angeles this season.
"Maybe not. Maybe we do (face him). Maybe we have to see him seven times still," Sutter said, looking ahead to a potential Kings-Penguins matchup in the Stanley Cup Final. "That would be a good thing for both of us. … He's a good player. At the end of the day, you want everybody's good players. You want to play against everybody's good players. That's the benchmark. Especially on this side, you only play them twice. So you want your players to play against everybody's best players too."
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was first off the ice on Friday and will likely start.
Here are the projected lineups:
Tanner Pearson – Anze Kopitar – Marian Gaborik
Milan Lucic – Jeff Carter – Tyler Toffoli
Michael Mersch – Nick Shore – Dustin Brown
Andy Andreoff – Jordan Weal – Jordan Nolan
Brayden McNabb – Drew Doughty
Jake Muzzin – Alec Martinez
Christian Ehrhoff – Jamie McBain
Injured: Kyle Clifford (upper body), Derek Forbort (illness), Matt Greene (upper body), Dwight King (lower body), Trevor Lewis (upper body)
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Beau Bennett
David Perron – Evgeni Malkin – Phil Kessel
Nick Bonino – Eric Fehr – Patric Hornqvist
Sergei Plotnikov – Matt Cullen – Daniel Sprong
David Warsofsky – Kris Letang
Brian Dumoulin – Ben Lovejoy
Rob Scuderi – Ian Cole
Injured: Pascal Dupuis (injured reserve), Kris Letang (upper body)
Scratched: Adam Clendening
Status report: Clifford did not play against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday after taking an elbow to the face from Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman on Sunday.
Who's hot: Maatta has scored at least one point in each of his three games since returning from an upper-body injury. He had two assists against Colorado on Wednesday. … Carter is riding a seven-game point streak dating back to Nov. 23. He leads the Kings with 26 points and is tied for the team lead in goals with 11.