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Penguins Six-Pack: Rust’s Pointed Observation; Another Power Failure



Adrian Kempe

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2-1 loss to Los Angeles Sunday at PPG Paints Arena was their fourth defeat in five games, as well as the latest in a series of setbacks during which they were unable to protect a lead — or a tie — in the third period.

Consequently, despite persistent statements that they believe in their chances of making the playoffs, they are failing to make up ground on the numerous teams they’d have to overtake to qualify for postseason play. And whatever confidence they had remaining before facing the Kings surely took a major hit after the Penguins gave up two goals in the final 6:11 of regulation to let a couple of desperately needed points slip away.

“That’s the most upsetting part about this one,” Bryan Rust said. “Judging by where we are, we can’t be letting those things happen.”

That the coup de grace came in the form of a shorthanded goal by Adrian Kempe only compounded their frustration.

It was the sixth goal opponents have gotten this season while the Penguins were on a power play; the Penguins have scored just 24 when they have a man-advantage.

1. The latest power outage

In the first period, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ power play looked like, well, an actual NHL power play.

Its members were moving the puck, getting scoring chances and actually scoring a goal, as Sidney Crosby drove a shot past Kings goalie Cam Talbot from the top of the right circle just five seconds into the Penguins’ second chance with the extra man.

It was all fairly impressive.

At least until the power play reverted to being its typically inept self, a relapse that culminated in giving up Kempe’s shorthanded game-winner.

“We just got a little too passive,” Crosby said. “We held on to pucks a little bit too much. I thought the first couple, we definitely had more of an attack mentality. We moved our feet and got pucks through. As the game went on, we didn’t do a good job of that.”

2. There’s no place like it

The Penguins have a dishwater-dull record of 13-10-3 at PPG Paints Arena, and their loss to the Kings was an ominous start for a four-game homestand that might well determine whether their playoff prospects still are registering a pulse a week from now.

Going 4-0 in those games might not only have prevented them from flatlining, but could actually have allowed them to make a bit of a climb in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference standings.

Falling to the Kings, though, means their maximum possible haul from this homestand will be six points, not eight.

And with a challenging road trip to Western Canada and Seattle waiting in its wake, the Pittsburgh Penguins might find themselves all but mathematically out of playoff contention before the stretch drive really gets started.

3. Kempe in control

Kempe scored both Los Angeles goals, his latest big night against the Penguins.

He got four in a 6-0 Kings victory at Arena last season and now has eight goals and five assists in 12 career games against the Penguins.

Kempe might not be as well-known around the league, especially in the Eastern Conference, as some of the NHL’s other big-time offensive talents, but he scored 41 goals last season and 35 in 2021-22.

“He’s a goal-scorer,” Kings coach Jim Hiller said. “His first one took a couple of bounces — it wasn’t pretty — but once you get that one, the next one usually comes a little easier.”

Especially, it seems, for Kempe. At least when he’s playing the Penguins.

4. Humble beginning

The Penguins were hoping Matthew Phillips, claimed off waivers from Washington Friday, would be able to add something to their offense, but his impact was limited, at best, against the Kings.

Phillips logged 11 minutes of ice time — 2:59 of which came during power plays — and was credited with one shot while working on right wing of the third line, alongside Lars Eller and Jesse Puljujarvi,

“I’d rather reserve judgment at this point,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “I don’t think I’ve seen enough of him, but I thought he had some good shifts.”

5. The road to salvation

Logic says the Kings should have been vulnerable, that they certainly should not have been the team with more energy in the waning minutes of the third period.

After all, they had played in Boston and traveled Saturday, and were in their third game in less than four days at the end of a four-game road trip that began with a humbling 7-0 defeat in Buffalo.

Nonetheless, Los Angeles seemed to get stronger as the game progressed, and the Penguins simply reached a point where they no longer could hold off the Kings.

“They played yesterday,” Crosby said. “I think we probably were guilty of allowing them to dictate the game a little bit more there late.”

At the very least, the Penguins didn’t force Los Angeles to burn off some of the energy that powered its late-game surge.

“Could we have spent a little bit more time in the offensive zone and maybe force them to expend more energy defending us,” he said. “Yes, I thought we could.”

6. Taking it easy (sort of)

Kings defenseman Drew Doughty had a lighter-than-usual workload Sunday.

By his standards, anyway.

He entered the game averaging a league-high 25 minutes, 55 seconds of ice time per game.

Against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he whittled that all the way down to, uh, 25 minutes and 19 seconds.

Which was enough time for him to, among other things, set up the Kempe goal that wiped out the Penguins’ 1-0 lead with 6:11 to go in regulation.