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Penguins Report: Game Day at Los Angeles

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins


Brandon Sutter

Matt Niskanen

--Michelle Crechiolo

It's a special Moms' Trip edition of the Verizon Game Day Report, as this one has a special guest - Jayson Megna's mother Jacqueline. Her and Sam Kasan have the latest from LA.

--Michelle Crechiolo

The Penguins are viewed by many teams in this league as a measuring stick.

“Teams know the talent we have and that they have to bring their A game,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said the other day.

Well, the Penguins view tonight’s opponent, the Los Angeles Kings, as their measuring stick.

The Kings, who won the Stanley Cup the year after Boston did back in 2012, are a team that’s very similar to the Bruins (and we all know what happened against Boston in the playoffs last spring). Coach Dan Bylsma used the word “heavy” several times to describe the Kings’ style of play.

“They play a heavy, heavy game all over the ice,” he said. “They play a heavy game forward and forechecking and and they play a heavy five-man defense around their goalie.”

Los Angeles comes into this game with the NHL’s No. 1 defense backstopped by arguably the league’s No. 1 goaltender, Jonathan Quick. Over the last few years the Kings have perpetually been among the league’s worst when it comes to offense, but that’s okay – because they win games (in both the regular and postseason) with their defense.

When they won the Cup two years ago, Los Angeles finished that regular season ranked 29th in goals-per game. That certainly didn’t end up mattering.

On the flip side of that, goals usually aren’t hard to come by for this Penguins team – known for being arguably the NHL’s most offensively talented. They certainly haven't been this season, but they were in the Eastern Conference Final against Boston.

And not only that, but they have been up and down in terms of their defensive play over their last 10 games or so, allowing three or more goals in seven and four or more in five. At times, they’ve let themselves get away from the overall mentality, focus and consistency they know they need to have in order to win hockey games both now and in June.

Against tonight’s opponent, it’s going to be more important than ever to have the right mindset and stick to it – across the entire length of the ice. So the Penguins are curious to see how the game plays out and how they respond to what unfolds. Win or lose, they view this as an opportunity to see where they’re at as a team.

“For the last few years now, we've proven that we can score a lot and we can score in bunches, in the regular season especially,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said following this morning’s skate. “So I think this is the perfect time here to play a team like this, that is a playoff-style brand of hockey and kind of get this into our brains right now – that this is how tough it's going to be to generate things and our mentality going into the game (has to be) that we can't give up a whole lot because they certainly aren't. It's a perfect opportunity to see where we're at with our mentality. “

Captain Sidney Crosby agreed.

“I know they play a pretty tight style of game and don't give up a lot, so it'll be a good challenge for us,” he said. “I think we probably need that type of tight game to play a certain way and get a little bit better at managing the puck. So that'll be good for us.”

--Michelle Crechiolo

The players (and coach) talk the Penguins-Kings matchup...

--Michelle Crechiolo

After the optional skate, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said that Jeff Zatkoff will start in goal tonight against his former team. Zatkoff was drafted by Los Angeles in the third round (74th overall) of the 2006 NHL Draft and spent three-plus seasons with their American Hockey League affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, from 2009-12. However, he never played an NHL game for the Kings during his time there behind goalie tandem Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier.

With the emotion of both playing against his former team and in front of his mom Kristina, Bylsma joked he was glad he told Zatkoff yesterday he was starting tonight so that he had time to gain his composure.

"We were going to split these two games with the goaltenders," Bylsma said. "We looked at previous records and success against both these teams. And Jeff obviously playing against his former team and organization, when I told Jeff yesterday he was going to be playing in this game yesterday, he was pretty excited about it. And I'm glad I told him yesterday (laughs). He could get excited about it yesterday and settle into the task today."

Zatkoff enters tonight's game with a nine-game unbeaten streak (8-0-1), with his last start coming on Jan. 23 vs. the Islanders (made 30 saves in a 6-4 win). The rest of the lineup, per Bylsma, is a game-time decision.

--Michelle Crechiolo

After taking the team photo with their moms, 18 players stayed on the ice for an optional morning skate - including defenseman Kris Letang, who had a maintenance day yesterday and did not practice.

The full list of attendance is as follows: Malkin, Jokinen, Kobasew, Orpik, Niskanen, Adams, Letang, Bortuzzo, Gibbons, Engelland, Maatta, Zatkoff, Fleury, Sutter, Megna, Glass, Pyatt and Ebbett.

--Michelle Crechiolo

Before the Pens' morning skate at Staples Center, the players, coaches, staff and their moms - wearing their sons' jerseys! - posed for a team photo in front of the bench. So presh. Sam took a wide shot and a few close-ups.

As ROOT SPORTS' Dan Potash noted, Kris Letang and his mom Christiane have the same hair. Now we know where he got it...

--Sam Kasan and Michelle Crechiolo

After eating breakfast and bussing over to the rink with their sons, head coach Dan Bylsma invited all of the moms to the team's morning meeting to scout tonight's opponent - the Los Angeles Kings. Here's the awesome photos...

Sid and his mom Trina hiding in the back

Awww - Neal with his mother Deborah and Sutter with his mother Connie

Tanner Glass and a few moms arriving at the arena

Waiting to get the latest on the Kings

Looks like the moms will be having their sons' jerseys on tonight!

Equipment manager Jon Taglianetti being a gentleman and providing chairs for the ladies

And now for some photos of the Staples Center...

Yeah, the Lakers have won a championship or two (or 16)

Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato played on a line with Gretzky when they were teammates on the Kings back in the day

--Sam Kasan and Michelle Crechiolo

Hockey players like to think of themselves as tough, but when it comes to their mothers, deep down they're all big softies. That came across when we talked to the guys about the amazing women that raised them heading into the first-ever Moms' Trip.

We also asked the players to reflect on their favorite memories of their moms growing up playing and the kind of hockey moms they were. And we received gems like these...

More amazing quotes from the guys reminiscing about their mothers are here.
On Wednesday, the Pens and their moms took an early morning flight from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles. And upon arrival, the group headed to the Kings' practice facility for an afternoon skate. For more photos like the one below of Sidney Crosby and his mother Trina, visit the Penguins Report.

--Michelle Crechiolo

The Penguins practiced Wednesday in a familiar setting for defenseman Rob Scuderi, as the Toyota Sportscenter is home to the Los Angeles Kings and Scuderi for the prior four seasons.

“I went to park in my normal spot, but somebody else was in it,” he joked after practice.

Scuderi’s impact on the Kings organization can be seen inside the facility. A huge portrait hangs above the ice of the 2012 team huddled around the Stanley Cup, a championship that Scuderi helped them win.

Full story here.

--Michelle Crechiolo

Tonight's game is going to be a fantastic matchup, with one of the main storylines being that the offensively gifted Penguins led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will be going up against the NHL's No. 1 defense backstopped by Jonathan Quick, arguably the best goalie in the league. For more on the Kings, watch my scouting report below.

--Michelle Crechiolo

"You have mountains and the ocean and a great big smiling sky…the blues pass Los Angeles by."

Good morning (or afternoon, for those of you back home) from the City of Angels, Pens fans! Tonight Pittsburgh will play Los Angeles at the Staples Center, with the puck dropping at 10:30 p.m. EST. The team will hold their morning skate at 2:30 p.m. EST. To get you ready for the matchup, here are some game notes...
  • This is the first meeting between the Penguins and Kings since Pittsburgh recorded a 3-2 overtime win on Nov. 5, 2011 at STAPLES Center. That night, Chris Kunitz forced overtime by scoring with just under three minutes remaining in regulation, then he added the game-deciding shootout goal against Jonathan Quick.
  • If Quick starts for the Kings, he would be the second-straight U.S. Olympic goaltender to start against the Penguins and American head coach Dan Bylsma. Buffalo's Ryan Miller stopped 31 of 33 shots on Monday.
  • Pittsburgh has won two straight games against the Kings and five of the past six meetings between the teams.
  • The last two games between these teams (both Penguins victories) have extended beyond regulation.
  • Here at STAPLES Center the Penguins are 2-1-1 in their past four visits.
  • Tonight will be Sidney Crosby’s just fourth career appearance against the Los Angeles Kings and his third here at STAPLES Center. He was scoreless in his last game here on Nov. 5, 2009, which was the last time Crosby played the Kings. In his only other visit, on Nov. 1, 2006, Crosby had three assists.
  • Crosby enters tonight holding a 10-point lead in the NHL scoring race. Crosby has registered multiple-point efforts in three of his last five road contests and is 35 road points (15G-20A) lead all NHL skaters.
  • This season, the Penguins are 35-5-2 when Crosby records a point, versus just 2-9 when he does not.
Stick tap: Pens PR

And a couple of non-game related notes: Injured Penguins winger Beau Bennett, who is on the trip with the team, was born and raised just outside of Los Angeles in Gardena, Calif. (needless to say, he's excited to eat his version of home cooking: an In n' Out burger). And Penguins center Brandon Sutter's uncle Darryl is Kings the head coach.


The players' moms flew to LA with them yesterday to kick off the first-ever Moms' Trip (for more background on the trip, check out my feature here). They'll be cheering their sons on tonight from a suite, and I found the PERFECT song for that as I was looking for music to continue the theme Sam started in yesterday's blog with Boyz II Men's "Dear Mama."

Are you ready for this?...It's "The Perfect Fan" by the Backstreet Boys. So appropriate! Even though I was a big fan of BSB growing up (though NSync was always my No. 1), I totally forgot this song even existed, but it works so well for our purposes.

Enjoy! (Or at least try to keep an open mind. Ha!)

--Michelle Crechiolo
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