Just nine days ago, the Los Angeles Kings were in Glendale, Arizona at Jobing.com Arena to take on one of their Pacific Division rivals, the Phoenix Coyotes. In the first meeting between the two clubs on the year, the Kings shut out the Coyotes 2-0. Jonathan Quick was the man doing the shutting out, and he’ll be in goal again tonight when the Kings return to Phoenix looking for another win in the desert.
The last time the Kings were in Phoenix, however, they were without top defenseman Drew Doughty. After missing the last five games, and most of the game before that, Doughty returns to the lineup tonight, and will be looking to pick up where his temporary replacement left off, as Slava Voynov scored two goals and an assist in his last game on Thursday in Dallas before being reassigned to the Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs. Doughty has lofty expectations to live up to. Doughty held out through almost all of training camp before finally getting what he wanted in a $7M cap hit and becoming the highest-paid King. For the 21-year old fourth-year defenseman, he now has to earn it and prove he deserves that money, and his attempt at rebounding from a disappointing season (by his standards) got off to a bad start with the holdout and the early injury. But the season is only nine games old, so Doughty still has lots of time left to put together a very strong season. Let’s hope he starts tonight, although unfortunately it may take him a while to get his game back to where it needs to be.
Although the Kings power play was only 1-for-6 against the Stars, there’s no doubt that it’s looked much better this year. Despite the seven power play goals so far, the Kings offense had been struggling this season largely thanks to their inability to score 5-on-5, but they had a strong offensive game against a stingy Dallas team and a red-hot Kari Lehtonen last game, scoring four goals at 5-on-5 (although one was an empty-netter, so technichally they were down 6-on-5…), and they’ll try and keep that going tonight in Phoenix. There’s no doubt that this team can score when you look at the roster, but they haven’t been doing a lot of it yet. We can only hope that last game was a turning point.
However, the Kings are going to have to keep the offense going without Simon Gagne. Gagne was not at practice yesterday, and will not play today. He is listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Trent Hunter checks back into the lineup to take Penner’s spot on the 3rd line, he’ll play on the right while usual 3rd line right winger Brad Richardson moves to the left of Stoll to take Penner’s spot. Penner moves up to the left side of Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams on the 1st line, and gets a glorious chance to finally show something and give the Kings some production. With Gagne not expected to be out long, Penner better have a good game tonight. Other than that, and Doughty replacing Voynov on the blue line, no other lineup changes. The 2nd and 4th lines remain the same, with Scott Parse remaining in the lineup and remaining with Mike Richards and Dustin Brown, and the 4th line of Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, and Ethan Moreau remains intact. Jonathan Quick remains in goal, as mentioned earlier, but Terry Murray would not commit to a starter for tomorrow’s game in Colorado.
The Coyotes, meanwhile, have recently made a couple of depth acquisitions up front. They acquired centre Cal O’Reilly from the Nashville Predators in exchange for their fourth-round pick in 2012, and they reacquired winger Brett MacLean from the Winnipeg Jets. After the Jets claimed MacLean off waivers from the Coyotes earlier in the month, the Coyotes have claimed him right back after Winnipeg put him on waivers. So for those keeping track, that’s old Jets, to new Jets, to old Jets.
Other than their two new forwards who could potentially be in the lineup tonight, the Coyotes remain pretty much the same team they were last week when the Kings were here. Ray Whitney, Shane Doan, Martin Hanzal, Mikkel Boedker, Radim Vrbata, and Daymond Langkow should form the top-six forwards for Phoenix. Other than potentially MacLean and O’Reilly, the Coyotes have many other options for their bottom-six, as it could consist of Lauri Korpikoski, Raffi Torres, Boyd Gordon, Taylor Pyatt, Patrick O’Sullivan, Paul Bissonnette, and Andy Miele.
On the back end, Keith Yandle remains their go-to guy, as well as one of the best defensemen in the league. Joining him on the Coyotes blue line will be another very talented defenseman in Oliver Ekman-Larsson, as well as Adrian Aucoin, David Schlemko, Rostislav Klesla, and Derek Morris. Veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival was on the injured reserve when the Kings visited last week, and that’s where he remains at the moment.
In goal, it could either be Mike Smith, who the Kings saw last week when they were in Phoenix, or former King Jason LaBarbera. No word yet on who the starter will be.
The Kings are off to a strong 6-2-1 start and, with a win tonight and a New Jersey win over Dallas, or an overtime or shootout loss for the Kings and a regulation win by the Devils over the Stars, the Kings would take over first place in the Pacific Division and in the Western Conference. Can the Kings keep it going and get another win in Phoenix, or will the Coyotes exact their revenge?