LOS ANGELES- In a game that illustrates the skin-tight grouping in the Pacific Division, the last-place Phoenix Coyotes look to move within four points of the second-place Los Angeles Kings tonight in Glendale, Ariz.
While their point totals may be similar, the Coyotes are the only squad in the division with a negative goal differential (-8), while the Kings recent offensive surge — including wins of 5-0 at Detroit, 6-1 at Nashville and 4-0 at San Jose — places them at a formidable +28.
The Kings are in a tough stretch of their schedule coming off a five-game road trip across difficult weather and now facing four games in five nights. Already having won four straight including a back-to-back set to begin this four-in-five stretch, they appear to have regained their early-season confidence and seem to have sharpened their focus as well.
“Four in five nights is a very hard part of the schedule but, again, it is part of the NHL schedule,” said Kings Head Coach Terry Murray. “Life is hard, and that’s why you spend the offseason working out to get yourself stronger and mentally ready to get going. So, suck it up guys, and let’s play hockey.”
The Coyotes, like the Kings, are seeking their second straight playoff berth after a prolonged absence. Their strength starts between the pipes. The Russian netminder Ilyz Brygalov spearheaded last season ‘s franchise-record 107-point campaign.
Bryzgalov missed five straight games with an upper-body injury before returning to action against the Anaheim Ducks in a 3-1 loss. Anaheim hopped on the Coyotes early with three straight goals and never relented apart from a power-play goal by Phoenix winger Shane Doan.
In what promises to be a contest of contrasts, the Kings recently defeated the Ducks in a fashion similar to how Anaheim bested Phoenix. They earned a 4-1 win after scoring three straight goals in the second period against Anaheim Sunday.
Further, the Coyotes have scored just just four goals in their last four games, which include three losses. The Kings are averaging just over four goals per game in their last eight contests, including six wins and four straight victories.
While the Kings’ youth movement is bearing a veritable garden of fruits — all five of their top scorers and their two goalies are well under 30 years old — the Coyotes remain essentially a veteran team despite a bevy of high draft picks.
Their most productive players have been the team captain Doan and the ageless free-agent addition Ray Whitney. The 34-year-old former all-star selection, Ed Jovanoski, still plays a large defensive role and even scored his first-career hat trick earlier this season.
The projected cornerstones Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are still trying to find their place in the organization, although younger players like Wojitek Wolski and Keith Yandle are making strong impacts already.
Where Bryzgalov earned his first career Vezina nomination last season, the Kings’ Jonathan Quick may very well accomplish the same feat this season. Quick has silenced murmurs of a goaltending controversy by posting incredibly lean totals across the board and turning in the top campaign of any Western Conference goalie this season. Both men will be in net tonight.
Turris may be a player to keep an eye on for the Coyotes as he has begun to get his legs under him as a full-time pro. For the Kings, Marco Sturm recorded his first point and his first goal as a King in the past two games. He appears well on his way to recapturing the speed and offensive ability he had prior to offseason knee surgery to repair two torn ligaments and may prove that eight left wings on the Kings top line is, in fact, enough.