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PITTSBURGH -- The same result, three months earlier, might have had a different feel.
One point on the road, against a Stanley Cup contender in November? That feels good.
One point on the road, against an injury-riddled team that practically had more AHL forwards than NHL forwards, and only played one strong period? Not so good.
That's the position in which the Kings found themselves Thursday night. A strong defensive game was present throughout, but the offense was inconsistent at best in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins before 18,208 at Consol Energy Center.
``We need two points right now,'' Kings captain Dustin Brown said. ``That't the bottom line. We got one, but at the end of the day, we need two. It's so tight right now, and we've got to keep climbing. The only way to do that is to get two points on a consistent basis.''
Typically, earning one point on the road, particularly against an Eastern Conference team, is at least cause for a shrug and a slight grin. Given the situation in which the Kings have put themselves, though, one point didn't feel like enough against the Penguins.
Playing without forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz -- all injured -- and Matt Cooke (suspended), the Penguins called up four AHL players, all forwards, and went all-in on defense, clearly hoping to win a tight contest, and that's what they did.
The Kings came out strong, outshooting the Penguins 13-5 in a first period that ended in a 1-1 tie, but then the Kings disappeared in the second, recording only two shots on goal. They reappeared at times in the third period and, several times, appeared to be within moments of winning the game with quality scoring chances in overtime.
If nothing else, the Kings seemed on track to take their chances in the shootout, but then Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal forced the puck away from Jack Johnson in the neutral zone, found open ice and beat Jonathan Quick with a close-range shot to end the game.
``We were just too casual, on the whole play,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``Right from the breakout, through the middle of the ice. We tried a backhand hand and it doesn't connect. We're too casual, then, at our own blue line. When we have an opportunity, just keep it going back the other way, or make a real strong play. You know you're going to get a 2-on-1 in the situation (otherwise). It's an opportunity to jump on a loose puck.
``It was casual, and I thought our second period was casual. You get two shots on net, and the second shot in that period comes at the end of the period, on a shot from the blue line. That's where our best players have to step up. These games are everything for us. This was an opportunity here tonight that slipped away on us.''
The Kings couldn't feel totally miserable with the result, given that, four games into their 10 consecutive road games, they have claimed six out of a possible eight points.
On the other hand, all of the teams around the Kings in the tight Western Conference playoff race -- the Kings remain in 10th place -- seem to be winning, and the Kings' next two games figure to be very tough, at Washington and at Philadelphia.
At times against the Penguins, the Kings did exactly what they needed to do. They took the puck to the net and got in deep against the Penguins' talented group of defensemen. Twice, they had near-goals cleared out of the crease by Zbynek Michalek.
``You've got to give them credit at times, but for the most part, I thought it was mental mistakes on our part,'' Scuderi said. ``At least we got a point, but ultimately, this is a game we should have had.''
But the Kings went 0-for-3 on the power play -- not entirely surprising, given that Pittsburgh ranks first in the NHL in penalty-kill efficiency -- and the inexplicable second-period slumber on offense prevented them from generating any momentum.
Alexei Ponikarovsky had a shorthanded shot, and nearly scored a close-range goal, less than three minutes into the second period, but the Kings didn't record another shot on goal until Johnson's long-range slap shot in the final minute of the period.
``We didn't really have a lot in the second period, offensively,'' Brown said. ``I think we had two shots on net, and we kind of took our foot off the pedal. We had a good first. If we play 60 minutes tonight, we probably win this game in regulation.''
Staal's goal spoiled the return of Scuderi, who played his first game in Pittsburgh since winning the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009.
During the first period, a video of Scuderi highlights was shown on the video board, and Scuderi got a brief but loud ovation from Penguins fans before play resumed.
``That was a classy move by a great organization,'' Scuderi said. ``I certainly appreciate that.''
The Kings entered the game with a 5-0-1 record in their last six, and the Penguins were coming off consecutive losses, but Pittsburgh got on the scoreboard first with a goal from Brett Sterling, a Pasadena native and former player in the Jr. Kings organization.
Sterling was one of four AHL forwards called up by the Penguins on Thursday.
Pittsburgh scored on the counter-attack, as Pasadena native Sterling took a pass in the slot, took a stride and split two defenders with a wrist shot that beat Quick to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead at the 6:53 mark.
The Kings tied the game with 2:43 remaining in the first period. Ryan Smyth carried the puck into the Pittsburgh zone and was faced with three Penguins defenders. Smyth tried to chip the puck in, and Michalek nearly controlled it, but lost it onto the stick of Stoll, who beat Marc-Andre Fleury with a quick wrist shot to tie the game 1-1.
Pittsburgh outshot the Kings 11-2 in a scoreless second period, as the Kings went 2-for-2 on the penalty kill.
The Kings dominated the chances in the early part of overtime, but Staal got the game-winner fro the Penguins with 18.4 seconds remaining. Staal forced the puck away from Johnson in the neutral zone, skated up the right side and beat Quick with a wrist shot to end the game.
``That's intensity of the shift,'' Murray said. ``You have to maintain that through the 60 minutes, to be a team that's going to be a good team in the league. There's games that we do it, and other games where we let it slip back, like tonight, in that second period in particular. We've got to figure that out real soon, because you get into the meaningful part of the season, and you just can't afford to be casual.''