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Struggling Kings brace for Penguins

The Los Angeles Kings will try to avoid losing five in a row for the first time this season when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins at Staples Center on Thursday night.

The Kings (24-15-15) were tied for second in the Western Conference with the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 4, but lost that night to the Calgary Flames 4-3 and have dropped three more at home to fall into a tie for eighth.

"We can't have any games where one line's not going, or one or two defensemen aren't going," Kings coach John Stevens said following the latest loss, 4-1 against the San Jose Sharks on Monday. "We need everybody, all the time, playing the game to the maximum of their potential for us to win hockey games."

The Penguins (24-20-3) have won the past two Stanley Cup titles, but are 0-1-3 against the Kings in the past two seasons.

Pittsburgh had a four-game winning streak end with a 5-3 loss Wednesday night at the Anaheim Ducks, but are 4-0-2 in the second game of the past six back-to-back sets.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan benched rookie right wing Daniel Sprong in the third period against the Ducks after he opened the game on the top line with Sidney Crosby, the two-time NHL goal-scoring leader.

Sullivan indicated he might make other lineup adjustments against the Kings.

"The guys who are playing hard, the guys who are making something happen, are going to get an opportunity to play," Sullivan said. "Those are just decisions coaches make game to game."

Stevens said the Kings need to be ready for another tough game on their home ice.

"They've probably played their best hockey lately," Stevens said of the Penguins. "That balance has really helped them, so our team game is going to have to be strong."

A key matchup will be on special teams.

The Kings come in ranked No. 1 in the NHL on the penalty kill at 87.1 percent. The Penguins have the top power play in the league at 27.1 percent and went 2-for-4 with the man advantage against the Ducks to improve to 6-for-15 in their past four games.

The Kings are expected to have a key member of the penalty-kill unit back in defenseman Jake Muzzin, who missed the past three games with an upper-body injury.

Muzzin has 23 points (three goals, 20 assists) in 41 games, putting him third on the team in assists and third in ice time (22:38).

"He's an important guy that plays in all situations," Stevens said. "He plays big minutes for us. I think he just solidifies your defense and your pairs. Especially with a team like Pittsburgh coming in, they've got really balanced attack. They've got power in all different lines there."

Pittsburgh only started making yearly visits to each West Coast team beginning with the 2010-11 season, so veterans Crosby and Kris Letang haven't been seen inside Staples Center much.

Crosby has played six games in Los Angeles in his 13-year career, posting three goals and four assists.

Letang will be making only his fifth appearance in Los Angeles in his 12-year career.
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