When urgency was required, when the Kings had an opportunity Thursday to stomp on a depleted and vulnerable opponent, they relaxed and relented.
When the Pittsburgh Penguins might have surrendered to the unkind fate that has dealt them a series of debilitating injuries, they instead united for a 2-1 overtime victory the Kings would do well to study and duplicate.
Jordan Staal, denied the winner late in regulation time when former Penguin Rob Scuderi blocked his wraparound attempt, stole the puck from Kings defenseman Jack Johnson in the neutral zone and rifled a shot off the arm of goaltender Jonathan Quick and into the net 4:41 into sudden-death play.
“At least we got a point,” Scuderi said, “but I think ultimately this was a game we should have had.”
It was an impressive result for the Penguins, who didn’t have Sidney Crosby (concussion), Evgeni Malkin (knee surgery), Chris Kunitz (lower-body injury) and an array of support players.
“People aren’t really expecting too much from us right now. They want us to just stop the bleeding until certain guys get back and I think that we can do a heck of a lot more than that,” Penguins center Michael Rupp said.
Whatever the Penguins lacked in sheer skill, they made up for in mental toughness. That’s a trait the Kings noticeably lacked after they allowed a good beginning to trail off into a two-shot effort in the second period and then couldn’t sustain a strong start in overtime.
“They’re a good team. They’re missing a lot of their key players, which is an opportunity for us to get two points,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said. “We got one, but we’ve got to find ways to get two right now.”
The Kings are 2-0-2 as they continue a stretch of 10 consecutive road games and they’ve earned points in a season-best seven straight games (5-0-2). Still, their inability to defeat a team pieced together with tape and hope was a symptom of a weakness that can’t continue if they’re going to climb back into the top eight in the Western Conference.
Kings Coach Terry Murray said his team was “too casual” on every facet of the decisive goal, including a bad breakout and miscue by Johnson. “These games are everything for us,” he said. “This was an opportunity tonight that slipped away on us.”
The Penguins got a sterling effort that included a goal by Pasadena native Brett Sterling, who was a Kings fan as a kid and played for the Junior Kings for a while. Sterling, one of four players summoned from the American Hockey League on Thursday morning, took a pass from Dustin Jeffrey — later lost to a lower-body injury — and wristed a shot over Quick at 6:53 of the first period.
The Kings matched that at 17:17 when Jarret Stoll captured a looping pass from Ryan Smyth, eluded defenseman Zbynek Michalek and got a rolling puck past Marc-Andre Fleury for his 15th goal of the season.
The Penguins dominated the middle period and the Kings had some spurts in the third. Staal, who missed the first half of the season because of foot and hand injuries, nearly won the game in the waning seconds but was stymied by Scuderi, his teammate on the Penguins’ 2009 Stanley Cup championship team.
The Penguins had saluted Scuderi in a video shown on the center-ice scoreboard, but he wasn’t in a sentimental mood when he got in Staal’s way in the waning seconds of the third period.
“It’s always nice to stuff a friend when he’s trying to score a goal on you,” he said.
But he would have appreciated a win even more. Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma, a former King, called the victory — his 100th as a coach — “a big team win.” For the Kings, it was the loss of a point that mattered as much as the one they gained.