Kings coach Todd McLellan had a bit of a wish list for his team coming out of Monday’s trade deadline.
After two consecutive losses and a three-day break, he wanted to see better energy from his squad. After the departure of a fourth veteran position player, defenseman Derek Forbort, during Monday’s deadline, he wanted to see his younger role players take advantage of their newfound opportunities.
And, after his team struggled to contain the Edmonton Oilers’ dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on Sunday, McLellan was seeking defensive improvement Wednesday night against a Pittsburgh Penguins team led by its own one-two punch of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The first-year Kings coach got all three, riding an especially strong night from his top two lines to a 2-1 win in Staples Center.
“We had to check and check,” McLellan said. “At times it was ugly. We had to punt a lot, which isn’t how we always want to play or how we will always play in the future. Hopefully, we can maintain the puck a little bit more and get going. But right now, the guys are playing how they need to play to win. They played hard tonight. That’s part of developing the future.”
Indeed, the Kings weren’t dominant — the Penguins held a 36-22 edge in shots and twice hit the post in the first half — but they were disruptive.
On the opening shift, Anze Kopitar’s top line drew a Penguins penalty. On the ensuing power play, rookie Blake Lizotte redirected defenseman Sean Walker’s shot past goalie Tristan Jarry for the opening goal of the game.
In the second period, Lizotte’s second line, flanked by wingers Trevor Moore and Trevor Lewis, doubled the Kings’ lead when Lewis hit the brakes near the Penguins net to slip by a defender before jamming the puck through Jarry.
Early in the third, winger Bryan Rust took a back-door pass from Malkin and easily beat goalie Cal Petersen — his only blemish on a 35-save performance — to cut the two-goal lead in half.
But from there, the Kings clamped down. Kopitar’s line canceled out Crosby’s, Lizotte’s limited Malkin’s, and Petersen delivered key saves down the stretch.
“It’s players you dream about playing,” Lizotte said of his high-profile matchup. “It’s a challenge for sure. Coaches put that trust in me and you’ve got to deliver. You take that personally. I think I’ve done a pretty good job for the most part. It’s been a lot of fun.”