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Penguins' Zatkoff stops Kings, his former employer

The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- Two teams going in very different directions met at Staples Center, and the outcome followed recent form.

Winger Jussi Jokinen had a goal and two assists, and center Evgeni Malkin added a goal and an assist as the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Los Angeles Kings 4-1 Thursday.

Pittsburgh (38-14-2) maintained their stranglehold on the Metropolitan Division with the victory, extending to a 17-point lead over the second-place New York Rangers. Goaltender Jeff Zatkoff stopped 30 Los Angeles shots to earn his ninth win of the season.

The victory was special for Zatkoff, who was originally developed in the Kings' system but never appeared in the NHL for Los Angeles.

"I owe the Kings a lot," Zatkoff said. "I had two great goalie coaches, but things just never worked out here. Every victory is important, but this was a little more special than the rest."

With the division title a formality, the Penguins are now playing for the first overall seed in the Eastern Conference. They put the game away against a Los Angeles team that struggled to mount consistent offense throughout January.

"We know how good Los Angeles plays from in front, so it was important for us to jump on top," Jokinen said. "We had a great opening shift, and it carried us throughout the first period, even when they tied the game."

Pittsburgh seized control of the game when it notched two power-play goals during a two-minute, five-on-three advantage midway through the first period.

With Kings center Jarret Stoll and winger Dustin Brown drawing simultaneous penalties, Penguins winger Chris Kunitz scored his career-high 27th goal at 10:50 when he was set up by Jokinen from 15 feet out.

Jokinen followed 1:03 later when his wrist shot from 29 feet eluded Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick for his 16th goal of the season.

"They had two quick goals. They are a high-powered team," Kings defenseman Matt Greene said. "It's tough to come back when you are not scoring a lot of goals and give up two on the penalty kill. It's tough chasing in a game against a team like this."

In an effort to swing the momentum in his team's way, Kings coach Darryl Sutter pulled Quick and replaced him with backup Martin Jones to start the second period. The move did not pay off, as Jones yielded a bad-angle goal to Pittsburgh winger Tanner Glass that gave the Penguins a three-goal lead with 8:14 remaining in the middle frame.

"I should have made the change sooner; they scored three goals on six shots," Sutter said. "I'm not a big guy on changing goalies, that's not something historically that I've done."

The Kings' offensive woes have caused a tailspin that finds the team struggling to stay above the wild-card race in the Western Conference. For a team that was expected to contend for a Stanley Cup, rumors about trades and even a possible coaching change have started to circulate around the team.

The Penguins took the lead in the game's first minute when Malkin was left alone at the left post for his 15th goal of the season. Quick made a stop on a shot from the slot by winger James Neal, but the rebound drifted to Jokinen, who threw a cross-ice feed for an easy tap-in by Malkin.

Los Angeles evened the game on the power play at 9:32 when center Anze Kopitar hammered a slap shot past Zaktoff for his 16th marker of the season. Defensemen Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov earned assists on Kopitar's third goal in last five games.

The Kings (30-20-6) lost for the seventh time in their last eight games.

Jones stopped 15 shots in relief of Quick.

NOTES: Pittsburgh scratched RW Chuck Kobesew, C Andrew Ebbett and D Kris Letang. ... Pittsburgh D Matt Niskanen is the league leader in plus-minus. His plus-30 is a huge improvement from his plus-4 rating last season. ... Los Angeles did not dress RW Matt Frattin, D Alec Martinez and D Jeff Schultz. ... Kings LW Dustin Brown was dropped to third-line duty by coach Darryl Sutter. Brown is suffering through a poor statistical season and was taken off the power play and penalty kill teams as well. ... Los Angeles G Jonathan Quick started his fifth consecutive game between the pipes. Since returning from injury Jan. 4, Quick has started in 13 of the 14 games but was pulled for the first time since Oct. 15 at Tampa Bay.
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