KINGS (22-12-3) at COYOTES (23-13-2)
-- Kings 7-2-1; Coyotes 7-2-1
-- The Kings' only divisional regulation loss came to Phoenix in the season opener -- a 6-3 setback on Oct. 3. Since then the Kings have beaten the Coyotes three times while outscoring them 13-8. In the most recent meeting on Dec. 10, a 3-2 shootout decision at Staples Center, forward Justin Williams
scored the decisive goal in the eighth round.
-- The Kings played 10 games over the first 17 days of December, going 7-2-1 before earning an eight-day break. With seven players out of the lineup, the organization was forced to play four rookies in their last game, a 2-1 loss to the Flames on Dec. 17. Those first-year players included defensemen Alec Martinez
and Davis Drewiske
and forwards Scott Parse
and Corey Elkins
, who actually scored his first NHL goal.
"If you had told us we would go 7-2-1, we'd jump on that," Williams said. "If you go 7-2-1 in any 10-game stretch, you're going to be first in the League. But we feel we deserved a better fate."
-- The Kings are getting healthier by the day. Jack Johnson
, Brandon Segal, Wayne Simmonds and Ryan Smyth, all of whom have missed time over the past month, returned to practice Monday and are expected to play action against the Coyotes. Smyth’s return figures to be a great Christmas present for leading scorer Anze Kopitar
. At the time Smyth got hurt, he was in the NHL's top 10 in points with 9 goals and 23 points in 22 games. His play also enabled Kopitar to rise atop the NHL leader board with 14 goals and 32 points in 22 games. In 15 games without Smyth, Kopitar totaled 2 goals and 4 assists.
Expect Kings coach Terry Murray to have Kopitar centering Smyth and Williams; Michal Handzus centering Brad Richardson
and Dustin Brown
and Oscar Moller
centering for Alexander Frolov and Simmonds on the top three lines against the Coyotes.
"When a guy like (Smyth) is out of the lineup it's always fun when the guy gets back," Kopitar said. "We're back on the same line and I thought it was pretty good in practice. He didn't miss much. I guess he missed six weeks but he's still pretty good. I think he's still got it."
-- Phoenix has won its last eight home games – the franchise’s longest victory streak ever at Jobing.com Arena and its longest home winning streak since the ‘Yotes won eight in a row from Feb. 12 to March 24, 2002, at America West Arena in downtown Phoenix. One reason for the surge has been the play of right wing Scottie Upshall, who has 4 goals and 3 assists in his past five games. On Monday, Upshall set a career-high with four points in a 5-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has 6 goals in his last nine games and leads the team with 13 goals.
-- Coyotes captain Shane Doan
has scored a goal in two of the past three games for Phoenix and leads the Coyotes with 24 points in 38 games.
Injury report -- Center Jarret Stoll
(groin) and defenseman Randy Jones (neck) are out for the Kings. … For Phoenix, defenseman Kurt Sauer
(neck injury) hasn’t played since early October and wing Vernon Fiddler (lower body) is listed day-to-day.
-- Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (21-10-7, 2.02 GAA, .926 save percentage, 5 shutouts) hasn't lost a home game since Nov. 12 -- a span of nine matches. … The Coyotes received offensive contributions from 11 different players in a 4-0 victory over the Ducks on Wednesday, including forward Peter Mueller, who notched two assists for his first multi-point game of the season.
-- It'll be another intriguing tussle between two teams battling to keep pace with the San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division. It seems like Coyotes coach Dave Tippett has his team right on target.
When asked if he was satisfied with the fact his team stands fourth in the Western Conference with 48 points at the Christmas break, Tippett said: "About a week ago I was hoping we'd get to 11 (games) over .500 at Christmas and we're at 10. We're on it, but there's a lot of work to be done here yet. I like the way this group has come along and I give the players a ton of credit. They've really jumped in and became a very close and good team. But there's no awards for half the season. The second half gets tougher and gets more meaningful."