Kings vs. Penguins Preview

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PITTSBURGH, PA (AP) - The Pittsburgh Penguins won four of the first five games they were without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, a testament to the team's steady defense and solid depth up front.

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Suddenly, the absences of Crosby and Malkin are far from their only concerns.

An injury to Chris Kunitz and a suspension for Matt Cooke could leave the Penguins without five of their top seven forwards Thursday night as they host the resurgent Los Angeles Kings.

According to NHL odds and oddsmakers from online sports book have made the Penguins -117 money line favorites for Thursday's game against the Kings. Current NHL Public Betting Information shows that 57% of more than 98 bets for this game have been placed on the Penguins -117.

Pittsburgh (34-17-4) lost its first three games without Crosby (concussion) and its first contest after Malkin initially went down with a knee injury, but the team didn't lapse into a prolonged funk.

The Penguins won their next four without Malkin, surrendering just five goals, before getting the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner back briefly against Buffalo on Friday. Malkin tore his ACL in that 3-2 victory - he'll have surgery before Thursday's game and will miss the rest of the season - and Pittsburgh hasn't bounced back so well without him this time.

It couldn't get anything going offensively in a 3-0 loss at Washington on Sunday - the team's 22 shots were its fewest since Nov. 12 - before falling 4-1 at home to Columbus on Tuesday. Kunitz missed that game with a lower-body injury - he's day to day - while Cooke's first-period hit from behind on Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin earned him a four-game suspension.

Rookie center Mark Letestu already is out for at least a month with a lower-body injury. Should Kunitz sit again Thursday, the Penguins will be without five players accounting for 85 of their 161 goals.

"We just need to regroup. We have to learn from these last two games," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "We've played well without (Crosby and Malkin) before. We need to do it again."

None of the Kings' top five forwards, all of whom have at least 14 goals, have missed one game this season. That good health didn't make a difference as Los Angeles (29-22-2) scored two goals or fewer seven times during a 2-10-0 stretch from Dec. 29-Jan. 20, but coach Terry Murray's team is starting to turn a corner.

The Kings went into their current 10-game road swing on a three-game winning streak and haven't slowed down much. They followed a 1-0 shootout loss at Minnesota on Feb. 1 with a 3-1 win in Edmonton a night later, then got past red-hot Calgary 4-3 in a shootout on Saturday.

Los Angeles remains barely on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, but it's starting to build some momentum with 29 games left.

"It's a critical time of the year to put some points on the board and keep climbing in the standings," Murray said.

Jonathan Quick will be between the pipes Thursday seeking a sixth straight win. He has a 1.74 goals-against average in his last five starts and has three road shutouts since Dec. 13.

Quick outplayed Marc-Andre Fleury as Los Angeles beat the Penguins 5-2 at Staples Center on Nov. 5, 2009, the first time Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi faced the team he helped win the Stanley Cup five months earlier.

This will be Scuderi's first trip to Pittsburgh as a visitor.

"The team is a lot different now," Scuderi told the Kings' official website. "I still know probably half of the team. I spent five years there, so I'm sure a lot of memories will come back once we get there."

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