It's not every day the Kings get goals from three defensemen in one game, even though their defense corps ranks among the NHL's most mobile and creative.
Before Drew Doughty, Christian Ehrhoff and Jake Muzzin each contributed a goal to the Kings' 5-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday afternoon at Staples Center, the team had last gotten goals from at least three defensemen in a game March 17, 2007. It's surprising that hadn't happened more recently.
"I think we don't get much respect in that in terms of our back end. Usually everybody talks about Drew and it sort of goes down from there," Coach Darryl Sutter said. "But it's something that even after last season, we felt we were top 10 in production from our defense, and that's what we expect."
Doughty and Ehrhoff set the tone in a four-goal spree in the second period — the team's most productive this season — and Muzzin matched a career best with three points (a goal and two assists) in those 20 minutes. They generously let left wing Milan Lucic share the fun: He cashed in on a two on one for a 3-0 lead and capped the scoring with an empty-net goal after the Penguins pushed back to within 4-3 and replaced goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury with an extra skater.
Defense has been the foundation of the Kings' success but the defense corps has changed dramatically after the free-agent departures of Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell, injuries to Matt Greene, and Slava Voynov's domestic-violence case. The current group is finding its footing and, now, its scoring touch.
"It was a good night for us," said Muzzin, who has matured into a reliable leader after a bumpy start to his career. "It's always nice when we can pop in and contribute offensively, give a break to the forwards for a game."
The victory was the third in a row for the Kings (16-8-1) and fourth in their last five games (4-0-1). They're 16-5-1 since an 0-3-0 start that had fans calling for players' heads and condemning the trade that brought Lucic to Los Angeles, and that prosperity allowed them to be mildly self-critical Saturday.
"I think we gave up a little too much tonight. Even though the shots might not have been lots, they had a lot of Grade A chances," Muzzin said of the Penguins, who scored three times on their first 12 shots against Jonathan Quick and took 20 shots overall.
"But we ended up scoring one more goal than them and that's what we needed."
Actually, two more, but who's counting?
The important point is that the Kings, 3-0 on a homestand that ends Sunday, held high-scoring forward Evgeni Malkin scoreless, killed off two disadvantages and scored on one of three power plays.
After a scoreless first period, the Kings broke through on the power play. Jeff Carter won the faceoff and slipped the puck back to Muzzin, who passed across to Doughty. His one-timer from the left circle beat Fleury high, to the glove side, at 2 minutes 26 seconds.
"He has one of the best resumes out there," Lucic said of Doughty. "He could easily be a Norris Trophy winner right now if he wasn't playing at 10:30 at night most nights for the Eastern time zone."
Ehrhoff increased the lead to 2-0 at 9:53 with his first goal as a King, set up on the rush by Marian Gaborik. Lucic finished off a two on one with Tyler Toffoli by taking the shot and propelling the puck through Fleury's pads at 10:57.
The Penguins cut the Kings' lead to 3-1 on a low, stick-side shot by Chris Kunitz, but Muzzin's fine shot from the inside edge of the left circle gave them a 4-1 lead at 12:18. Olli Maatta skated in for a backhander that beat Quick at 18:01 to trim the Kings' lead to 4-2 and Sidney Crosby brought the Penguins within a goal when he redirected a shot by defenseman Brian Dumoulin past Quick 2:39 into the third period but the Kings, after Gaborik was stopped on a penalty shot, held on to win.
"We should have never let them back in the game all the way," said Doughty, who played 30:08, his fifth consecutive game of more than 29 minutes on the ice. "Quickie had to make some big saves in the second and we were giving up too many chances at some points.
"We know that we weren't exactly happy about that but the overall game, I thought we played pretty good."
KINGS VS. TAMPA BAY
When: Sunday, 7 p.m.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790.