TIME: Thursday, 10:30 p.m. EDT.
Wayne Gretzky makes his return to Los Angeles in search of his first career coaching victory when his Phoenix Coyotes face the Kings at the Staples Center.
Gretzky, owner of 61 NHL records as a player, is widely considered to be the best player in league history. He was the NHL's most prolific scorer before retiring in 1999 after 20 seasons.
"The Great One" enjoyed eight strong years with the Kings from 1988-96, creating excitement for the sport in what was traditionally a non-hockey region. He had at least 30 goals and 90 assists in five of those seasons and helped the Kings to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993, where they lost in five to Montreal.
Gretzky is trying to generate the same kind of enthusiasm for the Phoenix franchise, which has missed the playoffs three of the last four years. He has been the Coyotes' managing partner and hockey operations director since June 2, 2000 before he was named to his first ever coaching position on Aug. 8.
Phoenix, though, fell short in his coaching debut Wednesday, scoring twice with 43 seconds left before suffering a 3-2 loss at Vancouver.
Gretzky was impressed with the team's effort despite the defeat.
"To be honest with you we played a pretty solid game," he said. "We want to win every night but we've got 81 more games to go and if I get the effort like that tonight and we keep improving from where we were three weeks ago to now, we'll win our share of games. Believe me."
Oleg Saprykin and Keith Ballard - one of two rookie defensemen Gretzky chose to play ahead of healthy veterans Cale Hulse and Sean O'Donnell - scored for the Coyotes, who began the season with four players on injured reserve, including goaltender Brian Boucher (groin).
Los Angeles also lost its season debut, 5-4 at Dallas on Wednesday.
Newly acquired Jeremy Roenick, who spent the past three seasons with Philadelphia, scored twice as the Kings jumped to a 4-0 lead in the first period, but failed to hold the lead after giving Dallas 12 power-play opportunities.
"We spend the whole night killing penalties, it's going to catch you," said Roenick, who didn't mind the five stitches he got above his left eye. "It feels good. I feel like a hockey player again."
Mathieu Garon made 25 saves in his debut with the Kings, who were 1-of-4 with the man advantage.
The Kings open a five-game homestand Thursday and play nine of their next 11 at the Staples Center. They were 15-16-9-1 at home in 2003-04.
STANDINGS: Coyotes - 0 points, 3rd place (tied), Pacific Division. Kings - 0 points, 3rd place (tied), Pacific Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Coyotes - Ballard and Saprykin, 1 goal; four tied with 1 assist; six tied with 1 point; Tyson Nash, 4 PIM. Kings - Roenick, 2 goals; Lubomir Visnovsky, 2 assists; Roenick and Visnovsky, 2 points; Dustin Brown, 6 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Coyotes - Power play: 25.0 percent (1 for 4). Penalty killing: 100.0 percent (4 for 4). Kings - Power play: 25.0 percent (1 for 4). Penalty killing: 83.3 percent (10 for 12).
GOALTENDERS: Coyotes - Curtis Joseph (0-1-0, 0 SO, 3.00 GAA); David LeNeveu (no record). Kings - Garon (0-1-0, 0, 5.00); Jason LaBarbera (no record).
2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Kings, 3-2-1.
LAST MEETING: March 10, 2004; Kings, 3-1. At Phoenix, Luc Robitaille scored for the Kings, his 540th career goal with Los Angeles.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Coyotes - 0-1-0 on the road; Kings - 0-0-0 at home.