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Coyotes-Kings Preview

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-evaluated 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: Coyotes - Power play: 18.5 percent (39 for 210), 12th in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.1 percent (159 for 196), 22nd (tied). Kings - Power play: 15.2 percent (33 for 216), 23rd (tied). Penalty killing: 82.5 percent (165 for 200), 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).


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.

Associated Press
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