The Pittsburgh Penguins enter their matchup with the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday as the NHL's hottest team.
After a slow start Friday night, the Penguins earned their 10th win in their past 11 games, posting a 7-4 road victory against the Anaheim Ducks. Pittsburgh scored all seven of its goals in the final two periods while erasing a 3-0 deficit.
The game against the struggling Ducks appeared to provide the Penguins a perfect opportunity to ease into a five-game West Coast road trip, but it turned into hard work early after Anaheim scored three times in the opening 12:23. The Ducks ultimately were left with their 10th consecutive defeat (0-7-3).
When they face the Kings on Saturday, the Penguins should see the level of competition rise, but only slightly. Los Angeles has lost four of its first five games in January, including a 4-1 defeat Thursday against the Ottawa Senators, who entered the week on an eight-game losing streak.
While Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin have put a charge into the Pittsburgh offense, denying opponents the opportunity to score has been a strength of late, the first period Friday notwithstanding.
The Penguins are 24-for-26 on the penalty kill over their past 11 games. Going back to their past 14 games, the Penguins have killed off 32 of their opponents' past 35 power plays.
Much of that success is due to the return of goaltender Matt Murray, who is 9-0-0 since returning from a lower-body injury. Murry has two shutouts in those nine games.
"Just trying to compete and get a little bit better every day," Murray said earlier this week, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of his team, according to nhl.com, "I want to reinforce their confidence level because they've been really good for a long time and they've won a lot of games for us. We know that and we're appreciative of that, and we just have to try and learn from that experience and continue to work at it and get better."
The Kings will have to dig deep for a winning strategy. As the Ducks showed Friday, even a three-goal lead isn't safe against Pittsburgh, not that Kings are familiar with what a three-goal lead feels like.
Los Angeles has scored more than two goals just once its five games of the new year, and just twice in its past eight contests. The Kings are averaging 1.6 goals per game in January.
When they lost by three goals on Thursday, they led early, only to see the Senators supply all the energy the rest of the way. It was the Kings' second lopsided defeat to the struggling Senators this season.
"That's awful," Kings forward Kyle Clifford said of the defeat, according to the Los Angeles Times. "That's just embarrassing, to be honest. Not much more to say other than that."
Defenseman Alec Martinez did return to the Kings on Thursday from a 14-game absence caused by an upper-body injury, helping the team move closer to full strength. Only Trevor Lewis (foot) and Jonny Brodzinski (shoulder) were unavailable for Los Angeles against the Senators.
Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz (ankle), center Zach Aston-Reese (upper body) and winger Patric Hornqvist (concussion) are out indefinitely.
--Field Level Media