LOS ANGELES (AP) - The Phoenix Coyotes don't know when coach Wayne Gretzky will be back behind the bench. Their first game without him prompted many questions about how they will play without him.
Just hours after Gretzky took an indefinite leave from the team to return to Canada to be with his mother who has lung cancer the Coyotes lost 4-1 to the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night.
"It's something that you deal with. We have good leadership in this room, so we'll be more than OK in that area," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said.
"We were ready. We were well prepared and we had decent scoring opportunities. But something like this makes you realize that hockey isn't important in the grand scheme of things, and our thoughts and prayers are with the whole Gretzky family."
Craig Conroy ended a 13-game goal drought during a power play and set up set up goals by Pavol Demitra and Joe Corvo in the Kings' victory.
Coyotes associate coach Rick Tocchet ran the club in place of Gretzky, the NHL's career scoring leader and the team's managing partner. Tocchet will be behind the bench until Gretzky returns, but he'll have help from Barry Smith and Rick Bowness.
"There isn't one guy who's going to run the show," Tocchet said. "Wayne's always been a delegator and he's delegated a lot of responsibilities, so nothing really changes. I'll run the forwards and Barry will run the defense. Obviously, the players wish the best for Wayne and the family. Hopefully, they can use that motivation to get their game elevated."
Michael Cammalleri also scored and Lubomir Visnovsky had two assists for the Kings, who have won consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 22. Paul Mara's power-play goal for Phoenix in the second period was all that kept Mathieu Garon from his first NHL shutout. He finished with 25 saves.
"You can have all the systems and tactics in place, but the bottom line is your goalie needs to play good every night for you to have a chance to win in this league - and Mathieu played well for us," coach Andy Murray said. "We feel better about our game. We've had better intensity overall."
Phoenix's Brian Boucher made his season debut, stopping 33 shots. The six-year veteran, who injured his groin in a shootout following the Coyotes' first preseason game, was activated Thursday following a two-week conditioning assignment in the AHL.
"Initially, they said four-to-six weeks," Boucher said. "But I reaggravated it on a rehab assignment and that put me back a month. So it's been a long time, especially with the lockout last year. So it felt nice to be back. It's been a long time. Physically, I felt great.
"It was a good game for me. I got a lot of work and there were a lot of penalty kills, so it was a good test for me. But the result wasn't what we were looking for."
Mara tied it 1-1 at 9:01 of the second period, beating Garon high to the glove side with a short wrist shot from the slot after Ladislav Nagy threaded a pass to him through defenseman Mike Gleason's legs. But Los Angeles regained the lead for good just 61 seconds later with Corvo's sixth goal.
Boucher temporarily kept the Kings from breaking it open, making three saves during a 5-on-3 advantage Los Angeles enjoyed for 1:53. He then stopped Alexander Frolov on a breakaway with 5:21 left in the second period.
But Cammalleri and Conroy scored less than 3 1/2 minutes apart in the third, giving Los Angeles a 4-1 cushion.
"I think our team played great - a great team game," Conroy said. "We're back to where we were at the beginning of the season. We're not turning the puck over like we had been, and we're doing the little things you need to do to win games. We were rewarded for our hard work."
The Kings opened the scoring with just 49 seconds left in the first period on a seemingly harmless play. Phoenix center Jamie Lundmark tried in vain to bat down a fluttering puck with his stick in the right circle, Conroy flicked it toward the net from a sharp angle after it landed at his feet, and it glanced off Demitra's stick before sliding between Boucher's skates.
Notes: Kings LW Luc Robitaille was benched for the second straight game. ... Kings captain Mattias Norstrom hasn't scored a goal in 81 games since beating Boucher on Dec. 18, 2003, in a 4-4 tie with the Coyotes. That was the defenseman's only goal in 195 games. ... Garon has not allowed more than three goals in his last 10 starts. ... Boucher set an NHL record with five consecutive shutouts in 2003-04, but won only two of his final 22 starts that season.
|Pavol Demitra (17) ASST: Craig Conroy (19)|
1 - 0 LAK
|PPG - Paul Mara (6) ASST: Ladislav Nagy (22), Mike Comrie (15)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Joe Corvo (6) ASST: Craig Conroy (20), Lubomir Visnovsky (22)|
2 - 1 LAK
|Mike Cammalleri (9) ASST: Aaron Miller (5), Jeff Giuliano (2)|
3 - 1 LAK
|PPG - Craig Conroy (12) ASST: Pavol Demitra (24), Lubomir Visnovsky (23)|
4 - 1 LAK
|Paul Mara Hooking against Craig Conroy|
|Tom Kostopoulos Hooking against Dave Scatchard|
|Petr Nedved Tripping|
|Sean O'Donnell Hooking against Alex Frolov|
|Mike Comrie Kneeing against Tim Gleason|
|Mattias Norstrom Holding against Shane Doan|
|Derek Armstrong Hooking against Shane Doan|
|Mike Johnson Interference against Mattias Norstrom|
|Petr Nedved Tripping against Tim Gleason|
|Mike Weaver Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Dustin Brown Hi-sticking against Keith Ballard|
|Fredrik Sjostrom Interference against Dustin Brown|
|Pavol Demitra Tripping against Ladislav Nagy|
|Derek Morris Cross checking against Sean Avery|
|Mike Cammalleri Boarding against Fredrik Sjostrom|
|Mike Ricci Hi-sticking against Mike Weaver|
|Geoff Sanderson Hooking against Mattias Norstrom|
|Zbynek Michalek Holding against Alex Frolov|