By: Chad Lynch
Tonight the Phoenix Coyotes will host the Los Angeles Kings in the third preseason game for both teams. It is also the first of tem meetings scheduled between the two division rivals this season.
"It's always a big game when you face an inner-division rival," said Mike Leclerc. "Everybody wants to set the tone for the season with this game and with us being at home it reminds us that we have a lot of pride and we want to play well for the fans too."
For Ladislav Nagy, tonight's game is a little extra exciting because of the challenge to match the high powered offense the Kings bring with them .
"It is good to play against guys like Jeremy Roenick and Pavol Demitra," said Nagy. "You know you have to be ready to play against those guys each game if you want to win."
Tonight will also mark the first appearance of Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky.
"I am very excited," said Gretzky. "Each and every step a person takes in their life is exciting and this is a new step for me. I couldn't be happier with the coaching staff and how hard they've worked as well as the players and the effort they have shown. It is very encouraging."
For Gretzky, tonight's game will give him the chance to go head-to-head against one of his own former coaches in Andy Murray.
"Any is a very good coach who I had the chance to play for in the 1998 World Cup," said Gretzky. "He is a very smart hockey mind and I look forward to the challenge."
When asked what the hardest part of his new job was going to be, Gretzky was quick to answer.
"Winning," said Gretzky. "This team is basically playing a completely new style of hockey and the expectations are higher than they have been in the past. This team has the goal that they want t win every night and while we know that we won't win every game that is our goal and it will take a big commitment on all our parts to be successful."
Over the past two games, Gretzky and his staff have tried to come up with new line combinations that will bring out the best in each player. One of the new lines that will take the ice tonight will feature Leclerc, Mike Rupp and captain Shane Doan.
"It's a good line, but a little different than what I have been used too," said Leclerc. "I have never been the smallest guy on my line before, so this is a first."
Size aside, Leclerc is looking forward to skating with his new line mates and hopefully generating some offense.
"Both Shane (Doan) and Mike (Rupp) are very talented guys who see the ice real well," said Leclerc. "I think we will really play well together."
For Rupp, skating along side Leclerc and Doan has come more naturally than expected.
"I have been real happy with both of those guys," said Rupp. "It is a fun situation when we are out there because can really sense where they are and where they are going, which will help us be successful."
While Brian Boucher recovers from a preseason groin injury, Curtis Joseph has taken on the starting goaltender role. Joseph will start tonight against the Kings and will likely play the majority of the preseason games from this point on.
"I asked Curtis how many games he wanted to play to get ready for the season," said Gretzky. "He indicated that he would ideally like to play in five more preseason games, so at this point the plan is for him to play in five of the remaining six games."