The NHL standings suggest the Los Angeles Kings are the league's worst team. Considering their play lately, it's becoming more and more difficult to accept that as fact.
Red-hot Los Angeles, fresh off a win over the league's best team, looks for its fourth victory in five games on Saturday when it continues its season-high eight-game road trip with a matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Kings (23-30-3) have 49 points, the fewest in the NHL, but since losing 7-0 to Nashville on Jan. 8 in a performance described by coach Marc Crawford as a "total collapse," they've gone 8-3-1. Not only have they been winning, they've been doing it against some impressive opposition, posting victories over Western Conference powers Dallas, Anaheim and on Thursday night, the league-best Red Wings.
The win in Detroit didn't come easy, however. Los Angeles trailed 3-1 after two periods, but scored four times in the third to win 5-3, its first victory at Joe Louis Arena since Feb. 18, 2000.
"It's always great when you can come back and win a game in the third period," said defenseman Brad Stuart, who scored the go-ahead goal. "But it's much better when you can do it on the road against the best team in the league."
The Kings improved to 3-1-1 on the trip, their longest since an eight-game road swing in 2002-03. They haven't played in Pittsburgh since Oct. 10, 2003, when they won 3-0 to extend their unbeaten streak there to seven games (five victories, two ties).
Anze Kopitar leads Los Angeles with 22 goals and 51 points, and he's had a point in five of the team's last six games, tallying four goals and two assists. But perhaps the Kings' best player in the new year has been Alexander Frolov, who has 10 goals and 11 assists in 16 games since Jan. 1.
The Penguins (30-19-5) are also 3-1-1 in their last five games, and will be looking to win back-to-back games for the first time since Sidney Crosby went down with a high ankle sprain on Jan. 18.
They beat the New York Islanders 4-3 on Thursday, improving to 4-2-2 without the league's reigning Hart Trophy winner in their lineup.
After Pittsburgh blew a two-goal, third-period lead in a 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey on Monday, coach Michel Therrien called out Ryan Whitney, saying the defenseman's play "cost us the game."
Whitney must have been listening to his coach. He scored two power-play goals in the win over New York.
"He responded exactly the way I expected. Give him credit," Therrien said. "He upgraded his game not only offensively -- it is great to get two goals tonight -- but defensively he was sharp. This is what I want from him."
The Penguins got some potentially promising news when Crosby practiced on Friday for the first time since his injury. Pittsburgh still insists the timetable for his return -- thought to be six-to-eight weeks -- won't be moved up.
Evgeni Malkin has done his part to pick up the Penguins' offense with Crosby sidelined. He has five goals and nine assists in the past eight games, including seven assists in his last three contests.
Malkin had two goals -- including the game-winner -- in his only career meeting with the Kings, a 4-3 overtime victory in Los Angeles on Nov. 1, 2006.