After recording a pair of victories as they returned from the All-Star break, the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins now face the well-rested Los Angeles Kings in a matchup on Saturday.
The freshness scales are tilted even further considering the Penguins played Friday, earning a 6-3 road victory over the Anaheim Ducks. The Kings have been off since Jan. 31, plotting their course for the final two months in an attempt to earn a playoff berth.
Both teams own the top wild-card spot in their respective conferences. The Penguins followed a 2-1 overtime victory at home over the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday by thrashing the Ducks.
“I thought it was a pretty dominant performance,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said after the win in Anaheim. “I thought we had the puck an awful lot and I thought we generated numerous amounts of scoring chances.”
Evgeni Malkin had two assists for Pittsburgh to become the third player in franchise history to reach 1,200 career points along with Mario Lemieux (1,723) and captain Sidney Crosby (1,472). The milestone point came from an assist on a Bryan Rust goal midway through the third period as the Penguins took a 5-1 lead.
Malkin, 36, is having a resurgence with 54 points (19 goals, 35 assists) in 51 games, including 10 points (three goals, seven assists) over his past five games.
Crosby, who boosted his own career point total with an assist, is riding a nine-game points streak. Defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph had two goals and an assist on Friday for the Penguins.
The Kings will be playing their first home game since Jan. 19 after they headed into the All-Star break on what they hoped would be a statement-making six-game road trip. The returns were mixed after Los Angeles went 3-2-1, closing it with losses against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes.
The Kings now play three of their next four games at home, although they won’t have to travel far for the road game next Friday at Anaheim. They cranked up the intensity in practice Friday after a practice Thursday to stretch their legs.
“A lot better, night and day,” Kings forward Alex Iafallo said after Friday’s practice, according to LA Kings Insider. “Day 1, obviously you’re trying to get your bearings straight and just trying to get used to your skates again, your hands. But Day 2 is back to normal. It’s not like it’s summer and you took a month off, it was just nine days. The boys are ready to rock.”
All-Star Kevin Fiala leads the Kings in assists (35) and points (53), while Adrian Kempe leads in goals (22).
Pheonix Copley essentially has taken over in goal from Jonathan Quick, starting 17 of the past 22 games. Copley, who signed a one-year contract extension Friday, is 15-3-1 this season with an .897 save percentage and a 2.92 goals-against average.
Copley made his Kings debut on Dec. 6 and has the most goalie wins in the NHL since that date.
The Kings will celebrate former captain Dustin Brown on Saturday with the two-time Stanley Cup champion getting his number retired, The team also will unveil a statue at Crypto.com Arena. Brown spent 18 seasons with the Kings.
–Field Level Media