Drew Doughty tries to get around Patrick O'Sullivan while being chased by Raffi Torres during the Kings' 4-3 win over the Coyotes at Staples Center on December 26th, 2011. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

Drew Doughty tries to get around Patrick O'Sullivan while being chased by Raffi Torres during the Kings' 4-3 win over the Coyotes at Staples Center on December 26th, 2011. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

After a very disappointing, frustrating shootout loss to the Avalanche on Monday, the Kings are back at it tonight, hosting the Phoenix Coyotes in another big game against a Pacific Division rival, their fourth of six games against the Coyotes this season and second of three at Staples Center.

The Kings played an excellent game against the Canucks on New Year’s Eve, and then started off great against the Avalanche, but the Kings got some bad luck and then appeared to let up, and only ended up with one goal and one point to show on the night. However, it was the Kings’ fifth game in eight nights, so perhaps they were tired. Now with two days in between tonight’s game and their last game, hopefully we see a Kings team tonight that is able to sustain a strong 60-minute effort, something we haven’t seen a lot of this season.

The last meeting between these two teams was a positive one for the Kings, and it was just 10 days ago that they defeated the Coyotes 4-3 at Staples Center. The Kings will be hoping for the same type of success this time around against a Phoenix team whom they are 2-0-1 against this season.

The Coyotes haven’t been playing their best hockey lately, coming off of a 4-1 loss in St. Louis on Tuesday and are just 1-4-1 in their last six games. Overall on the season, their 19-17-4 record gives them 42 points and places them 11th in the Western Conference, three points behind the Kings for the eighth and final playoff spot, who got their 45 points thanks to a 19-14-7 record. Despite losing at Staples Center just over a week ago, and despite coming off of a bad loss in St. Louis and losing three of their last four games on the road, the ‘Yotes have been a pretty strong road team this season, posting a 12-9-1 record. The Kings, who are 10-8-2 at Staples Center this year as well as 1-0-1 so far on this crucial six-game homestand, will need the same type of success that they enjoyed when the Coyotes visited Staples Center last time.

The Coyotes offense is ranked just 22nd in the league, averaging 2.52 goals per game, and the Kings’ fourth-ranked defense, surrendering an average of just 2.2 goals against per game, will be looking to take advantage. Defensively, the Coyotes are strong, as their 2.62 goals against per game average ranks them 10th in the league, so the Kings’ 30th-ranked offense, averaging just 2.1 goals per game, could be in tough trying to get another four-goal night against Phoenix.

On special teams, the Coyotes have an absolutely abysmal power-play, ranked 28th in the league at just a 13.5% success rate. The Kings penalty kill has been wonderful lately, killing off 74 of their last 77 penalties and 27 consecutive penalties, and now rank tied for the second in the league with the Montreal Canadiens at an 88.4% success rate, so the Kings should definitely be able to keep the Phoenix power-play in check tonight. Meanwhile, the Kings power-play isn’t ranked much higher than the Coyotes, now ranked 25th in the league at just a 13.9% success rate. However, Justin Williams’ power-play goal in the first period on Monday should have counted, which would mean the Kings are on a two-game power-play goal streak. On the other hand, the power-play still looks atrocious right now and it has for a long time. Will they finally get their act together? They’ll be in tough against a Phoenix penalty kill that is ranked 11th in the league and killing off 83.6% of their penalties.

Leading the way offensively for the Coyotes are Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata, Shane Doan, Mikkel Boedker, Daymond Langkow and Lauri Korpikoski. Behind them are Patrick O’Sullivan, Cal O’Reilly, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Taylor Pyatt, Kyle Chipchura and Paul Bissonnette. Martin Hanzal and Boyd Gordon are on the injured reserve, and Raffi Torres is suspended. That’s good news for the Kings, as you may remember Torres as the guy who scored two of the Coyotes’ three goals back in the last meeting between these two teams.

On defense, the Coyotes are led by Keith Yandle and Oilver Ekman-Larsson. Behind them are Adrian Aucoin, Michal Rozsival, David Rundblad, Derek Morris, Rostislav Klesla and David Schlemko. Two of them will be healthy scratches.

In goal for the ‘Yotes, it’s expected to be Mike Smith, who returned from the injured reserve on Monday in St. Louis and played his first game since December 20th, and gave up three goals on 30 shots in the losing effort. Overall on the season, Smith’s been strong, holding a 15-11-3 record with two shutouts to go along with a 2.54 GAA and a .919 Sv%. The Kings played him twice in Phoenix in October, going 1-0-1 against Smith, and unfortunately, scored just two goals in each game. The Kings will look to get three or more on him tonight, however. Also unfortunate for the Kings is that it’s not expected that backup Jason LaBarbera will start in goal for Phoenix. LaBarbera was pulled after giving up four goals to the Kings last week, and, well, not all of them were great goals. LaBarbera is 3-6-1 on the season with no shutouts, a 2.71 GAA and a .910 Sv%.

For the Kings, there aren’t expected to be any lineup changes. It’s expected to remain Anze Kopitar between Mike Richards and Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll between Dustin Penner and Justin Williams, Andrei Loktionov between Brad Richardson and Trevor Lewis, and Colin Fraser between Kyle Clifford and Trent Hunter. Kevin Westgarth is expected to be a healthy scratch. Simon Gagne, who has been out since that last game against the Coyotes, continues to progress but is not yet skating and there is still no word on when he could return from his concussion.

On defense, Slava Voynov is still “banged up,” although he is getting better. However, he didn’t practice with the team yesterday so he isn’t expected to play tonight. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the defense pairings last game were Rob Scuderi with Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell with Alec Martinez, and Jack Johnson with Matt Greeene. If so, those will probably be the same pairings tonight. Davis Drewiske is expected to be scratched along with Voynov.

In goal, it’s expected to be Jonathan Quick making his third straight start and 34th start in 41 games this season.

Well, it’s the 41st game of the season for both the Kings and Coyotes, and one of them will be ending the first half with a win tonight. If the Kings win tonight, it will give them 47 points in the first half of the season, putting them on a 94-point pace for the season. That may or may not be enough to get in the playoffs, but whether it does or not, it’s pretty clear that the Kings will need to be better in the second half. Bernie Nicholls is apparently in LA for a while to help the team out as a consultant, and was out in practice with the team yesterday. Nicholls, of course, once had a 70-goal season for the Kings. To put that in perspective, as an entire team, the Kings have 87 goals this year and, as I mentioned earlier, tonight marks the halfway point of the season. Hopefully some of Nicholls’ old goal-scoring ability rubs off on the Kings. Which team will be able to finish the first half of the season with two points tonight, the Kings or Coyotes?

NOTE: The Kings will be wearing their alternate jerseys tonight.

 

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