Game Time: Thu. Feb. 16/2012 @ 10:30pm EST
TV: FS-A PLUS (HD), FS-W (HD)
Radio: XTRA Sports 910
Los Angeles Times
David Kalan - NHL.com Staff Writer wrote: Kings return home to host Coyotes
Last 10: Phoenix 6-2-2; Los Angeles 4-4-2
The Kings have won three of four against the Coyotes this season, including a 1-0 overtime win in their latest meeting on Jan. 5 at Staples Center.
Few races will be more fraught with drama than those for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. The two teams holding those spots will face off Thursday night, but with several other teams right on their tales, the loser Thursday may not stay in the top eight for long.
Like "The Little Engine that Could," the Coyotes have chugged their way into the top eight in the West despite an underpowered offense. Phoenix has yet to lose in regulation this month, going 5-0-1 in its last six games, and as a result the Coyotes have climbed into eighth place in the West, clinging to a one-point lead in the race for the final playoff spot.
Much of this is due to the unbelievable recent stretch by starting goalie Mike Smith, who is likely to start after sitting out the Coyotes' last game, a 2-1 shootout loss to Vancouver Monday night. That can only spell trouble for Los Angeles. Smith has won his last five starts, giving up more than one goal just once in that span. If Smith can keep his game up over the next week it could have a huge impact -- the Coyotes' next four games are all against teams against which they are competing directly for a postseason berth.
L.A. currently sits seventh in the West as a result of having fewer regulation and overtime wins than sixth-place Chicago, but it's remarkable that the Kings are even that high given how much the offense has struggled this season. L.A. has the fewest goals in the League, which makes its 4-2 win against Dallas on Sunday night not only crucial to its playoff hopes, but also surprising as the four scores were a veritable explosion compared with the Kings' typical output.
In a strange twist, two of those four goals for the Kings' were the first NHL tallies for Jordan Nolan and Dwight King, two players with a grand total of 10 NHL games between them. L.A. can't count on minor-league call-ups to carry the load, of course, but it's looking like that could be OK if the Kings can continue to count on goalie Jonathan Quick. New York's Henrik Lundqvist has gotten much of the publicity in the Vezina Trophy race, but Quick has put together a .934 save percentage and 1.91 goals-against average. In his last 22 starts, he's only given up more than two goals three times.
Smith isn't the only Coyote showing off lately, as Radim Vrbata has nine points in his last eight games. ... Anze Kopitar has five points in his last five games for the Kings.
Los Angeles' Jarret Stoll was placed on IR last week with a lower-body injury. Simon Gagne has been on IR since late December with a concussion. … Derek Morris (strained groin) and Taylor Pyatt (upper-body injury) are both questionable for Phoenix.
It's hard to overstate Quick's impact on the Kings this season. There might be no better signifier than L.A.'s goal differential, which is even right now largely due to Quick's stellar play compensating for an anemic offense. The Kings have scored fewer goals than last-place Columbus, which has lost 15 more games than Los Angeles.
As the season hits the stretch games between playoff hopefuls will get more and more crucial, but it's hard for a February game to have more implications than this. If Phoenix can win in regulation Thursday, it will leapfrog L.A. for seventh place, which would put the Kings in perilous territory. Calgary, Colorado and Dallas are all lurking right behind the top eight.
Coyotes Team Report:
The Coyotes' winning streak ended at five games Monday. The team's streak of good hockey continued, though.
Playing with a backup goalie who hasn't won in two months, and playing the full game without defenseman Derek Morris (groin) and half of it without forward Taylor Pyatt (upper body), the Coyotes limited the defending Western Conference champion Canucks to 22 shots and one goal in Vancouver and looked good doing it.
The Coyotes allowed a fluky goal when a puck off the stick of Kyle Chipchura went to David Booth and gave him a straight path to the goal in the second period. Keith Yandle -- also the recipient of fortunate circumstances -- got Phoenix even when just over two minutes left in the game, and the Coyotes took a point out of Western Canada with a 2-1 shutout loss.
Phoenix is now 5-0-1 in its last six games and 6-1-1 in its last eight. And while the winning streak in Western Canada came to an end -- the Coyotes swept the Canucks last year and went 6-0 in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary last season -- the Coyotes head to Los Angeles for a showdown with the Kings still in good spirits and still playing well.
"We came up a point short," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "It was a solid road game. We didn't give up a ton of chances. We hung around the game, we just didn't get the two points. We have to be solid if we want to win, and tonight we were solid."
Mike Smith got a chance to rest, and Jason LaBarbera played well (21 saves) until the shootout, when he allowed four goals in six chances. Still, the Coyotes had a chance to steal the point in the fourth round, but captain Shane Doan lost the puck off his stick after dekeing Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo and having room to score.
The Coyotes will have a chance to pull even with the Kings on Thursday; both teams are off until then. Since Chicago's losing streak continued on Tuesday in Nashville, Phoenix has the chance to catch two teams with one win. However, the Hawks will have a game in hand on the Yotes.
Kings Team Report:
The Kings had high hopes at the start of their season-long six-game road trip, and for good reason. Although the trip includes two tough sets of back-to-back games, it also had some very winnable games.
On the trip, the Kings faced the three worst teams in the Eastern Conference -- Carolina, Florida and the New York Islanders -- as well as a Dallas team outside the top eight in the Western Conference.
The Kings didn't exactly get what they wanted or needed. After Sunday's 4-2 victory over the Dallas Stars, the Kings headed home having accumulated five out of a possible 12 points on the road trip.
The good news for the Kings is they're still in the top eight in the West. The bad news is they missed a great chance to pick up ground on teams such as Chicago and San Jose, and they also allowed teams behind them, such as Phoenix and Colorado, to inch closer.
The bad news is things aren't going to get any easier. The Kings host Phoenix on Thursday, then playoff contender Calgary on Saturday, then have a back-to-back road set against Phoenix and Colorado.
The lowest-scoring team in the NHL, the Kings play 14 of the final 25 games on the road, and play 24 of those games against Western Conference teams.