KINGS (20-11-2) at COYOTES (16-15-2)
TV: FS-W, FS-A
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – When Arizona Coyotes center Martin Hanzal underwent back surgery in the spring, it was hoped that a lot of the injury issues that have plagued him during his career might be slowed as well.
Unfortunately, Hanzal continues to miss time leaving a huge hole in Arizona's top six forwards.
Hanzal will sit out for the sixth time in the past seven games and the ninth time this season when the Coyotes play the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday at Gila River Arena.
Hanzal, who turns 29 in February, has played great hockey when available this season. He has 20 points in 26 games (tied for third on the team), been a huge part of both special teams units and wins 54.5 percent of his faceoffs for a team that craves puck possession.
"He plays hard and when you play as hard as he does the injuries are something we've learned to deal with," coach Dave Tippett said. "He's in great shape, the injuries he's had before haven't been an issue this year but a number of other things have affected him. It's just about getting on the other side of that."
That said, Tippett doesn't just accept that Hanzal will miss games.
"You have to have the mindset that you will play 82 games, but you have to recognize there is past history and you have to be realistic," he said. "That's why organizations have depth built in to deal with injuries."
The Coyotes find themselves hanging around the playoff race after 33 games. Two of the biggest reasons are their strong play on home ice and their dominant play within the Pacific Division.
After winning 11 of 41 games at Gila River Arena in 2014-15, the Coyotes are 9-5-1 in the first 15 games at home and 7-1-1 in the past nine games dating back to Nov. 5. They are 3-1-1 on the homestand that ends Saturday.
But inside the Pacific Division, where the Coyotes are 7-1-0 the season, is where Arizona has played its best. That record includes three wins over the Anaheim Ducks and two early season road wins against the Los Angeles Kings.
A big key for the Coyotes in these games is the presence of Hanzal, the 6-foot-6 center who not only draws the defensive assignment against the likes of Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf and Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar, but produces offensively as well. Hanzal had two goals and four of his 20 points in two games against the Kings.
"We're just a better team with Marty; that goes without saying," Tippett said.
Louis Domingue will make his third straight start and is looking for a third consecutive win after allowing two goals in the past two wins. The Coyotes play at the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday and Tippett said he isn't sure if Domingue or backup Anders Lindback will start.
Jonathan Quick is in goal for Los Angeles.
The Kings have a six-point lead in the Pacific Division but have lost two straight, including 5-3 against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. That began a string of five straight games within the division and Saturday is the first of four straight on the road.
Here are the projected lineups:
Milan Lucic - Anze Kopitar - Marian Gaborik
Tanner Pearson - Jeff Carter - Tyler Toffoli
Trevor Lewis - Nick Shore - Dustin Brown
Michael Mersch - Andy Andreoff - Jordan Nolan
Brayden McNabb - Drew Doughty
Jake Muzzin - Alec Martinez
Christian Ehrhoff - Jamie McBain
Injured: Matt Greene (shoulder), Dwight King (foot), Kyle Clifford (upper body)
Scratched: Jordan Weal, Derek Forbort
Tobias Rieder - Antoine Vermette - Mikkel Boedker
Max Domi - Viktor Tikhonov - Anthony Duclair
Kyle Chipchura – Brad Richardson -- Shane Doan
Jordan Martinook – Boyd Gordon – Steve Downie
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Connor Murphy
Klas Dahlbeck - Stefan Elliott
Nicklas Grossman - Michael Stone
Injured: Zbynek Michalek (lower body), Mike Smith (abdominal surgery), Joe Vitale (fractured orbital bone), Martin Hanzal (lower body)
Scratched: John Scott
Status report: The Kings recalled Mersch from Ontario of the American Hockey League and he will play against the Coyotes. … Tikhonov will play in Hanzal's spot between Domi and Duclair against the Kings … Tippett said defenseman Michalek will be a game-time decision after missing the past four games with a lower-body injury. … Grossmann, who left Arizona's 3-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday with an upper-body injury, was back on the ice Saturday and is fit to play.
Who's hot: Doan has three points in the past three games. … Arizona's defensemen have 20 goals this season and at least one goal in 10 of the past 15 games.