Penguins notebook: Kings' priorities are defense, more defense

PENGUINS NOTEBOOK


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Los Angeles, which won the Stanley Cup in 2012, figures to be a serious contender for the championship again this spring, and there are plenty of reasons for that.

A volatile offense is not one of them.

That, however, is more a matter of priorities than personnel.

The Kings, who the Penguins will face Thursday night at Staples Center, had the fifth-least productive offense in the NHL before Tuesday night, averaging 2.35 goals per game.

Los Angeles has scored 133 goals in 54 games in 2013-14, matching its 48-game total from last season.

The Kings have more than a few capable scorers on the payroll -- guys like Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Justin Williams -- but Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi learned while spending the previous four seasons with the Kings that offense isn't coach Darryl Sutter's emphasis.

Not even close.

"During my time, we always had a lot of talent," he said. "But the way the mentality was kind of drilled into us was to be more of a defensive group. Guys aren't going to cheat for offense. They're going to stay back.

"There are some guys there who could easily get 80 to 100 points, but in that type of system and that type of [defensive-minded] conference, it's probably just not going to happen."

Still, a few of the Kings are in eye-catching slumps.

Richards, a reliable point-producer against the Penguins when he played for Philadelphia, has one goal in his past 29 games and Williams has one in 15.

Sutter undoubtedly would like to see both score a bit more often, but having the NHL's stingiest team defense -- Los Angeles is giving up just 2.02 goals per game -- presumably takes away a lot of the urgency.

Team USA goalie watch

Dan Bylsma of the Penguins, who will coach Team USA in the 2014 Olympics next month, is getting a firsthand look this week at the top candidates to be his club's go-to goalie during the Games in Sochi, Russia.

Ryan Miller of Buffalo stopped 31 of 33 shots in a 3-0 loss against the Penguins Monday night at Consol Energy Center, and Jonathan Quick is expected to be in goal Thursday night for the Kings.

Bylsma said while there are benefits to getting a firsthand look at the guys competing for the starting job on Team USA, those 60-minute snapshots hardly will be decisive in picking a No. 1 goalie.

"I certainly will be watching [Quick]," he said, "but just because it's live doesn't mean it weighs more [in the decision]."

More progress for Vokoun

Goalie Tomas Vokoun, who hasn't played this season because of blood clots discovered during training camp, has taken another small step toward returning to active duty.

He went onto the ice after the workout Tuesday at Consol Energy Center and took shots from about a half-dozen teammates who stayed on for that purpose.

Previously, Bylsma said, the only shots Vokoun faced came from other players recovering from injuries.

"We wanted to get him a chance to see shooters who weren't injured," Bylsma said. "It's another step, another small step down the road.

"He needs quite a bit more time and practice time, shot time, in the next two to three weeks before we get to another stage."

Tip-ins

Bylsma said that winger Beau Bennett, who is recovering from wrist surgery, is "approximately three or four weeks" from being ready to resume practicing and likely will do so late in the Olympic break next month. ... Defenseman Brooks Orpik was given a "maintenance day" by Bylsma and excused from practice Tuesday. ... The Penguins are scheduled to fly to Los Angeles this morning and practice there in mid-afternoon.


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.

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