There’s probably one line in the NHL better than the Penguins’ grouping of Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist, and it will take the ice tonight at Consol Energy Center.
Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson have combined for 17 goals and 34 points in nine games. That’s three more goals and two more points than Pittsburgh’s best line.
“We’re just trying to do our best and help the team win,” Toffoli said. “We have an extremely close team. I don’t think we care who’s scoring or who’s doing whatever. We just want to win as a group.”
Coach Mike Johnston was purposely vague in his response to a question about how he plans to defend the line – but at least he was there to answer it; Kings coach Darryl Sutter left Consol this morning before his media relations staff even knew about it, abruptly and awkwardly canceling his media session.
“With Pearson, Toffoli and Carter, there’s a certain way you’re going to have to play them to be successful,” Johnston said. “We’ve talked about that with our guys this morning. We’re not going to divulge our game plan, but we certainly have one against them.”
The Kings tied for the league-lead in hits last season and use their size to play a physical game. Few teams score against the Kings, though their shots-against is up – 34.7 this season compared to 26.2 in 2013-14.
“They play a very good forechecking type of game,” Hornqvist said. “They’re big and strong, and they like to finish their hits. That’s probably why they’re so good in the playoffs because that’s the way it usually goes in the playoffs. It’s not open hockey. It’s more tight. They’re a big and strong team, so we have to be aware of that and go at them hard.”
News out of the skate: Defenseman Paul Martin returned after missing practice Wednesday because of a stiff back. … Forward Beau Bennett and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo were full participants. Bortuzzo will likely rejoin the lineup next week, Bennett in 11-14 days. … Martin Jones was the first goalie off for Los Angeles, an indication that Jonathan Quick will not start. … Penguins called up Jayson Megna from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but he won’t play tonight. … The Kings have some injury issues. Neither center Anze Kopitar (upper body) nor right wing Marian Gaborik (upper body) are likely to play.
About the Kings: Los Angeles has earned points in eight straight dating back to Oct. 11. Overall, the Kings are 6-1-2. … The Kings are coming off a 3-2 loss at Philadelphia Tuesday in overtime when Brayden Schenn scored on a breakaway at the 2-minute, 24-second mark. Quick made 40 saves for his third 40-plus-save performance of the season. … Toffoli (5-8-13) leads in points. Pearson (7-2-9) leads in goals. … Los Angeles is tied with Chicago for the fewest goals allowed per game (1.67). … The Kings have the biggest group of defensemen in the league according to weight at 213.43 pounds.
The series: Penguins have won six of the past eight meetings dating back to Nov. 1, 2006. … Pittsburgh is 2-1 this season against Western Conference teams and has won 32 of 49 against the West since 2011-12, the most of anyone in the Eastern Conference. … They’re 61-71-18 all-time against the Kings, 41-26-10 at home. … Evgeni Malkin has been dominant against Los Angeles with 6-3-9 in five career meetings, all wins. … Marc-Andre Fleury is 27-10-2 with a 2.19 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage in 39 games against the Western Conference the past three years.
Next up: Penguins vs. Sabres, Saturday, 7 p.m.