|Phoenix at Los Angeles|
GAME: Phoenix Coyotes (16-14-2) at Los Angeles Kings (19-13-1).
TIME: Saturday, 10:30 p.m. EST.
The last time the Phoenix Coyotes faced the Los Angeles Kings, Wayne Gretzky was steaming mad and desperate for a strong performance from his struggling team.
The former Kings icon and first-year Phoenix coach may be in a similar mood when the Coyotes visit the Staples Center.
The Coyotes were 5-8-1 and coming off what Gretzky deemed a "disheartening" effort in a 3-2 loss Oct. 30 at Anaheim prior to a home game Nov. 3 versus the Kings.
Sparked by a rugged practice and tongue-lashing from the NHL's all-time leading scorer, the Coyotes responded with a 4-0 victory over Los Angeles behind the strong goaltending of Curtis Joseph and a goal and two assists from defenseman Paul Mara.
Gretzky was pleased with his team's resilience.
"Our work ethic was a lot better, and our thirst to get and want the puck was tremendous," he said after the win. "... The flow of our game was going toward their net instead of coming our way. I thought it was a tremendous job."
The victory sparked a strong month for the Coyotes, who went 8-4-1 in November and won three in a row to start December. However, Phoenix has trailed off recently, losing consecutive games, including Thursday night's 3-1 defeat to defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay.
"The third goal was a senseless goal against for us," said Gretzky of a third-period tally by Ruslan Fedetenko that gave the Lightning a 3-0 lead. "We shouldn't have given up that goal. That was the backbreaker for us.
"They're the Stanley Cup champions and they play the game the way it was supposed to be played," he added. "Having said that, I didn't think we played a poor game. We just didn't play as good as you have to play to beat a team like that."
Making matters worse, center Dave Scatchard was hit along the boards late in the third period, and left the game with an apparent knee injury. He was scheduled to be re- eval uated Friday and is listed as day-to-day.
The Kings had lost six of eight before Friday's 4-3 shootout win at Anaheim.
Petr Kanko's first career goal tied it in the third period before Pavol Demitra and Alexander Frolov scored in the shootout for Los Angeles, which got 42 saves from Mathieu Garon, and two more in the shootout.
Kanko was recalled from Manchester of the AHL on Friday and was inserted into the lineup in place of Luc Robitaille, who was benched.
Robitaille, three goals shy of Marcel Dionne's franchise record of 550, was scratched after being limited to 5:10 of ice time in Wednesday's 3-2 home loss to Washington. He had just one point in his previous 12 games.
Kanko, a 21-year-old left winger, was born two years and eight months before Robitaille's NHL debut.
STANDINGS: Coyotes - 34 points, 3rd place, 7 PB, Pacific Division. Kings - 39 points, 2nd place, 2 PB, Pacific Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Coyotes - Ladislav Nagy, 12 goals, 21 assists and 33 points; Sean O'Donnell, 63 PIM. Kings - Demitra, 16 goals, 23 assists and 39 points; Sean Avery, 108 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 15): Coyotes - Power play: 18.6 percent (39 for 210), 12th in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.1 percent (159 for 196), 23rd. Kings - Power play: 14.8 percent (31 for 210), 26th. Penalty killing: 82.7 percent (162 for 196), 15th.
GOALTENDERS: Coyotes - Joseph (14-9-0, 2 SO, 2.31 GAA); Brian Boucher (no record) Kings - Garon (11-7-0, 0, 2.76); Jason LaBarbera (8-6-1, 0, 2.90).
SEASON SERIES: Tied, 1-1.
LAST MEETING: Nov. 3; Coyotes, 4-0. At Glendale, Ariz., Joseph made 21 saves for his second shutout of the season, and 45th of his career, as the Coyotes evened the season series.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Coyotes - 7-8-1 on the road; Kings - 12-6-0 at home
RADIO COLOR COMMENTATOR LOUIE DEBRUSK'S THREE KEYS TO THE GAME:
Phoenix Coyotes Radio Color Analyst Louie DeBrusk sat down with phoenixcoyotes.com to offer his keys to the game for Saturday's match up with the Los Angeles Kings.
1. Back to basics. With their current two-game losing streak, the Coyotes need to get back to basics. Phoenix needs to revert back to what got them two points in the standings.
2. Limit turnovers. The Coyotes need to limit their turnovers at the blue lines and in the neutral zone. Several times on Thursday, the Coyotes gave up excellent chances to Tampa Bay on turnovers.
3. Physical Play. Los Angeles is a fast team with deadly scorers and the Coyotes need to be physical and throw the body around. If the Coyotes can control the physical play while not taking penalties, a win will be around the corner.
On Friday, Mike Leclerc practiced with his Coyotes teammates for about 45 minutes before leaving the ice with soreness in his knee.
"I just had a little bit of pain and wasn't able to push off at 100%," said Leclerc. "But it is feeling better today than it did yesterday."
Leclerc is currently listed as day-to-day and his status for Saturday's game in Los Angeles is likely to be a game-time decision.
BOUCHER TO START AGAINST KINGS
Coyotes goaltender Brian Boucher will make his first start of the regular season on Saturday in Los Angeles.
"He has worked very hard and the last three months have been hell for him," said Coyotes Associate Coach Rick Tocchet. "But he has worked his way back and he deserves to get in there Saturday."