LOS ANGELES -- The Penguins gave the Los Angeles Kings a dose of their own medicine.
Lauding the Kings for their stifling defense-first, physical play in the couple of days leading up to the teams’ game Thursday night at the Staples Center, it was the Penguins who played that style of game – and threw in a couple of buckets of offense -- in a 4-1 win.
The Penguins out-hit the Kings, 40-36, and they matched the Kings at 19 shots apiece through two periods before they went into the mode of protecting a lead in the third period, when Los Angeles held a 12-3 shots edge. They also blocked 15 shots to the Kings’ nine.
“Just a real complete game from start to finish,” said rookie goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, who made 30 saves to improve to 9-2-1 and keep the Kings mired in an offensive slump.
Los Angeles entered the game with just two goals over its previous four games, including being shut out twice. Its team 2.31 goals per game entering the game was among the lowest in NHL, but its but 2.00 team goals-against average was best in league.
Coach Dan Bylsma said he planned to split the starts for his goaltenders on this road trip, which means Marc-Andre Fleury will start Saturday when the trip concludes in Phoenix.
Zatkoff drew the game in Los Angeles for a few reasons.
“We looked at previous records and success against both of these teams and Jeff playing against his former organization,” Bylsma said.
Zatkoff was selected by the Kings in the third round of the 2006 NHL draft but did not make it to the NHL until this season with the Penguins.
“When I told Jeff [Wednesday] he was going to be playing this game, he was pretty excited about it,” Bylsma said. “I’m glad I told him [Wednesday] so he could get excited about it [Wednesday] and settle in to the task [Thursday].”
Bylsma also has a history of giving his goaltenders at least one start when the Penguins hold a dads’ trip. This season, the team instead is holding a moms’ trip, and it’s this road excursion.
It didn’t take the Penguins long to open the scoring in front of those moms.
Evgeni Malkin, stationed near the left goal post, converted a slick backhanded pass through the crease from Jussi Jokinen for a 1-0 lead 57 seconds into the first period.
“Loved the start of the game, getting the first goal of the game in the first minute,” Bylsma said.
The goal ended a two-game points drought for Malkin.
“Against teams like this, getting a lead is huge,” Jokinen said. “If they get a lead, they know how to play [defensively] and it can be tough.”
The Penguins entered the game with what seemed like a distinct advantage on their penalty kill. They were ranked first in the NHL at 87.6 percent, while the Kings’ power play was bumping along near the bottom of the league at 13.8 percent and had gone 0-for-18 over the previous five games.
But Los Angeles struck on the power play after Penguins winger Chris Kunitz was assessed a hooking minor, tying the score, 1-1, on team leading scorer Anze Kopitar’s blast from the center point at 9:32 of the first period.
Kunitz got some redemption and the Penguins regained the lead 1:18 later. Los Angeles’ Jarret Stoll and Dustin Brown were both called for minor penalties at 10:05.
From the slot, Kunitz scored during the ensuing Penguins five-on-three power play for a 2-1 Penguins lead, at 10:50 of the first period.
It was Kunitz’s 27th goal, setting a career high.
Jokinen, who already had two assists, was set up by Malkin and gave the Penguins a 3-1 lead during the remaining five-on-four power play, at 11:47 of the first period.
“You’re looking at 3-1 with two power-play goals against a team that doesn’t give up [more than] two goals a game,” Bylsma said.
The goal gave Jokinen three points in the first period.
“I’ll probably have to fly my mother here more than once a year,” he said.
The Penguins scored their three goals on seven shots in the first period, prompting Kings coach Darryl Sutter to pull starting goaltender Jonathan Quick and replace him with backup Martin Jones.
Los Angeles made a push at the start of the second period, registering six of the first eight shots, but the Penguins stood firm and eventually got the next goal.
Tanner Glass pushed the Penguins’ lead to 4-1 at 11:46 of the second period when, from the right dot, he fired a backhanded shot inside the far post.
That was essentially insurmountable for the light-scoring Kings.
“We were confident all along,” Glass said. “We had a really good start to the game. The power play was awesome. I thought we were pretty stingy defensively all night.”
The Penguins played without defenseman Kris Letang, who was scratched because he is ill, Bylsma said.
Robert Bortuzzo took Letang’s spot in the lineup alongside Letang’s normal defense partner, Rob Scuderi.
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published January 31, 2014 1:11 AM