Yohe’s 10 observations: Penguins get the win they needed in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES — Blowing out the Sharks in San Jose was good fun. Holding off the Ducks in Anaheim was a solid win.

This one felt a little different.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, playing against one of the NHL’s best teams in a building that is rarely kind to them, received an overtime goal from Bryan Rust to earn the feel-good win of the season, a 4-3 defeat of the Los Angeles Kings at Crypto.com Arena on Thursday.

Rust had a goal disallowed in overtime because of an offside challenge.

Moments later, he scored again.

“I haven’t seen that before,” Lars Eller said.

The Penguins haven’t seen this kind of success in California in quite a long time, either. This marked their first perfect 3-0 trip through California since the 1996-97 season, when Mario Lemieux and Patrick Lalime led the way.

Rust’s overtime goal was a pretty good microcosm of the trip for the Penguins. They still aren’t at their best, but they scratched and clawed their way through California to even their record at 6-6.

The Penguins didn’t play a great game against the Kings, but they played a passionate one.

“That was pretty awesome,” Crosby said of Rust’s goal moments after having a goal disallowed. “That’s a pretty good sign of resilience right there. It’s tough when you get one called back in overtime.”

The Penguins simply kept fighting. They fell behind 2-1, late in the second period, but received a short-handed goal from Eller to even the score.

Crosby, who enjoyed his best game of the season, then set up Jake Guentzel to give the Penguins the lead.

Even after the Kings tied the score later in the third period, the Penguins, playing in front of third-string goaltender Magnus Hellberg, went head-to-head against one of the NHL’s heavyweights.

Rust finally put the Kings away.

Minutes after scoring the game winner, Rust expressed his belief that this was a particularly big game. And a particularly big road trip.

“I think this one’s going to give us a little bit of juice,” he said. “This entire trip will. We found a way to win games in very different ways even when we weren’t at our best.”

Mike Sullivan didn’t think his team played an especially sharp game, but he appreciated the competitive spirit on display.

“I think it’s a huge win,” Sullivan said. “It was an ugly win. I don’t think we were at our best. We had moments when I thought we were good. What I liked was that we kept competing. We didn’t get down when they scored. They’re a good team. They’re hard to play against. I thought it was a gutsy effort on our part.”

Ten postgame observations

• Simply put, this was the trip the Penguins needed.

Sullivan’s right. It wasn’t pretty. The Kings had the better of the play for most of this game, though I found the 36-20 Los Angeles shot total to be a little misleading. Yes, the Kings were the better team most of the night. But they weren’t that much better. The Penguins held their own and found a way.

Had the Penguins left California with a 2-1 record on this trip, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. Disaster had already been averted because of the triumphs in San Jose and Anaheim.

However, this game was an opportunity to make the trip a smashing success. That’s exactly what happened.

• Give Kyle Dubas some credit for the past two wins.

The Penguins’ general manager and team president identified goaltending depth as a weakness when he took over the franchise. With Tristan Jarry and Alex Nedeljkovic out with injuries, the Penguins turned to Hellberg, their third-string goalie. (Good news: Jarry doesn’t have a concussion and is dealing only with eye swelling. He could be ready to return to the lineup as soon as Saturday.)

And you know what? Hellberg is pretty good for a third-string guy. I would venture to say he’s better than a bunch of backups who are receiving NHL paychecks.

Hellberg played a nice game against the Kings and was especially strong down the stretch. The pressure was on him late in the third when the game was even, because getting at least a point out of this one was a big deal.

He did the job. So did Dubas.

• Crosby was spectacular.

His backhand wraparound goal in the first period was a thing of beauty.

The pass he made to Guentzel in the third period was even better.

Crosby is hardly playing poorly. In fact, he’s now in possession of a seven-game scoring streak. But this was his most dynamic performance of the system. We saw a bit more jump. I think he’s finding his legs.

• The Kings played a nasty game.

It’s who they are.

The Penguins didn’t blink and actually seemed inspired by the Kings’ aggressive style.

“You have to channel your emotions in the right direction,” Rust said. “It got heated in the third. I was fortunate enough to turn that into a positive. Anytime you play a team that plays hard and in your face, you’ve got to respond or you’re going to get run over.”

• The Penguins barely celebrated Rust’s initial goal in overtime because they knew it was offside.

“I was surprised when I didn’t hear a whistle,” Rust said. “We kind of knew.”

I think it was good that the Penguins were immediately aware. It took away the sting that otherwise would have been there because they didn’t let their emotions get out of whack. They knew work remained.

• Eller is one heck of a hockey player.

I like everything about his game. He’s so good defensively. He’s strong on the puck. And he obviously has a bit of skill in his game.

He has some Matt Cullen traits. That’s a good thing.

• Radim Zohorna has been wonderful this season, so I’m not here to knock him.

Andreas Englund lit up Zohorna with a massive, open-ice hit in the first period.

Late in the game, Zohorna was guilty of a couple of defensive mistakes that led to opportunities for the Kings. He was all over the place most of the night.

Let’s see how he responds. He’s been, other than Eller, the best player in the Penguins’ bottom six. Rough games happen. He had one.

• Former Penguins owner Ron Burkle was in attendance Thursday.

Burkle, in fact, visited the locker room following the game and had a lengthy conversation with Crosby and Kris Letang in the aftermath of the victory.

The California billionaire sold his percentage of the Penguins to Fenway Sports Group two years ago.

• The Kings are a big-time hockey team.

Literally and figuratively. They look like a football team and they play like one. They’re one of the best teams in the Western Conference and, even though they weren’t on top of their game Thursday, they controlled most of the contest.

They’re a very nice blend of size, nastiness, skill and defensive IQ.

I don’t think they’re the best team in the West — I’d rank Vegas and the admittedly struggling Avs ahead of them — but I wouldn’t want to play this team in the first round of the playoffs. They’re good and keep getting better.

• The Penguins don’t have much time to rest.

They will fly to Pittsburgh on Friday morning and have the rest of the day off before hosting the Sabres on Saturday. Then, it’s right back on the road to Columbus.

Still, it will be a happy Penguins team that heads back to Pittsburgh. They’re suddenly two points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings. And yes, I realize it’s November. But you can dig too deep of a hole during this portion of the season, and the Penguins put together precisely the road trip they needed.

(Photo of Bryan Rust being swarmed by Penguins teammates after his game-winning goal Thursday night against the Kings: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

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