By Dan Scifo
From the Point contributor
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins believed they had the equalizer, but in the end, like so many other games during a troublesome losing skid, they fell one goal short.
Brandon Sutter’s would-be goal midway through the third period was disallowed and the Pittsburgh Penguins couldn’t manage to knot the score the rest of the way, ultimately falling, 3-2, to the Los Angeles Kings Thursday at Consol Energy Center.
“I’m not sure what the reason was, but there’s not too much we can do about it now,” Sutter said.
Drew Doughty’s ninth goal of the season, scored early in the third period, was the game-winner for the surging Kings, who picked up their fifth straight win and 13th victory in their last 16 games.
Los Angeles also got goals from Jeff Carter, his 26th of the year, and Alec Martinez’s 10th of the season as the Kings, who have won all their road games since the Olympic break, also matched their longest road winning streak in team history with their eighth straight. Backup goaltender Martin Jones stopped 35 shots for his 11th win of the year.
“We’re happy with the way we’re playing now, for sure,” Doughty said. “We’re coming together at the right time, we’re playing hard and we’re scoring goals, which we sometimes struggle to do.
“To be hitting our stride at this point and beating some very good teams, it’s a confidence booster.”
It has been a different story for the Penguins, who are 6-7-2 since the Olympic break, missing out again on an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth.
Chris Kunitz netted his 33rd of the season and Taylor Pyatt his second goal in as many games, but the Penguins’ special teams struggled, going 0-for-7 with the man advantage and allowing their 10th power-play goal since the Olympic break after surrendering just 23 in the first 58 games of the season.
“We lost the special teams battle,” Penguins’ goaltender Jeff Zatkoff said. “So many games are like that in the league and at the end of the day, that’s the difference.”
Los Angeles scored the go-ahead goal less than four minutes into the third, as Doughty joined the rush and blasted a shot behind Zatkoff after a drop pass from Dustin Brown.
The Penguins thought they tied it midway through the period when Sutter, from the top of the crease, chipped a rebound over Jones’ right pad and watched as the puck trickled across the line while taking a cross-check to the back from Doughty.
“I just kind of thought the puck was shot on net, the puck entered the crease and I was jamming away at it,” Sutter said. “It was loose the whole time, it went in and I got shoved in. I’m not too sure what the reasoning could have been.”
The official ruled Sutter interfered with Jones, resulting a no-goal call to the dismay of the 18,650 at Consol Energy Center who loudly voiced their displeasure.
“I’ve seen it go both ways,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “Unfortunately for us, it didn’t lead to a goal, but we had a number of chances besides that. That one doesn’t go in, but we have six other power plays we had opportunities on.”
The Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins, playing their second game without injured center Evgeni Malkin, dropped the final three games of a season-high four-game homestand and are 2-5-1 in their last eight contests.
Thursday’s game, however, didn’t mirror Tuesday’s deflating one-goal loss to Phoenix, a loss that sparked a players-only meeting after the game where several veterans questioned effort and desire.
“We competed hard,” Crosby said. “It felt like that was something we all wanted to do coming off last game. If we compete like that and generate chances we should get better results.”
Zatkoff started for the fifth time in 10 games, spelling Marc-Andre Fleury, who is in the midst of his longest winless stretch in five years, going 0-3-1 with a 3.76 goals-against average during that span.
Zatkoff, who stopped 30 shots during a 4-1 win Jan. 30 at Los Angeles, made 30 saves on Thursday.
“I think we played a hard game,” Zatkoff said. “The passion was there. It just seems like that one bounce is going the opposite way right now.”
The Penguins, who lead the league in man-games lost, saw trade deadline acquisition Marcel Goc leave the game with 51.7 left in the second period, injuring his leg during an awkward fall into the boards after a collision with Doughty. Goc, who remained on the ice until play stopped, couldn’t put weight on his leg and needed help to the dressing room. Head coach Dan Bylsma didn’t have a postgame update on his condition.
Carter scored the lone goal of the first period on the power play, deflecting Marian Gaborik’s shot behind Zatkoff.
The two teams netted goals 34 seconds apart, the Kings briefly extending the lead as a slashing call to Tanner Glass expired as Martinez’s long shot from the point found its way past Zatkoff.
Jayson Megna set up the Penguins’ first goal, chipping the rebound from a Crosby shot across the crease to Kunitz, who cut the Kings’ lead in half.
Pyatt tied it with his fourth of the year at 4:17 of the second, as his harmless-looking wrist shot from the right-wing boards caught Jones’ shoulder and deflected into the net.
Jones redeemed himself seconds later with a sliding, side-to-side blocker save, robbing Pens’ defenseman Matt Niskanen, who had an empty net to shoot at.
“There’s no magic formula,” Niskanen said. “We need to just keep doing the right things. Our compete level was really high and we battled like crazy until the end.
“It’s a bump in the road for our group. We have to stick together and keep doing the right things.”
NOTES: Pittsburgh is 6-2 in the series since 2006-07 as the Kings picked up their first win in Pittsburgh since a 3-0 victory Oct. 10, 2003 – Fleury’s NHL debut…The Kings last won eight straight road games during the 1974-75 season.