Coyotes-Maple Leafs Preview
GAME: Phoenix Coyotes (21-21-2) at Toronto Maple Leafs (24-16-3).
TIME: Saturday, 7 p.m. EST.
A grieving Wayne Gretzky has a chance to focus on coaching again, and he'll attempt to lead the Phoenix Coyotes to something they haven't done in eight years, a win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Gretzky attended the funeral of his grandmother on Wednesday, just three weeks after the death of his mother, then returned to the bench to lead the Coyotes to a 2-1 shootout win Thursday over the Buffalo Sabres. snapping Phoenix's four-game losing streak.
"It's been the worst three weeks, probably, I've had in a long time," Gretzky said. "But I'm not the only person, and we're not the only family that's ever had tragedy. It's part of life. You have to get up and move forward and figure out a way to deal with it."
Phoenix also will be looking to snap a six-game winless streak against Toronto since March 24, 1998. The Coyotes haven't won in Toronto since Jan. 31 of the same year, the last season the two teams were in the same division.
Toronto shifted to the Eastern Conference for the 1998-99 season and has won every matchup since.
The game also marks the return of Curtis Joseph to the city where he played from 1998-2002. Although Brian Boucher has started three of the last four games, Joseph will be in net for the Coyotes on Saturday.
"Curtis has earned the right to play this game," Gretzky said. "He's excited about playing the game. He's worked hard this week to get ready for this one.
"It's going to be a special night for him. He did a lot of great things here."
Joseph led the Maple Leafs to the Eastern Conference finals in 1999 and 2002, averaging 33 wins per season before signing with the Detroit Red Wings before the 2002-03 season.
"It's always fun to play at the Air Canada Centre," said Joseph, who returned to Toronto with the Red Wings in 2002, but sat on the bench as Manny Legace received the start. "It makes it different than any other game. When you're facing old teammates, it's always incentive-laden. But time has passed."
The Maple Leafs suffered a disappointing 4-3 loss Tuesday night to the Canucks, despite outshooting Vancouver 38-19.
Toronto played defenseman and leading scorer Bryan McCabe, who injured his groin in last Saturday's 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers.
Without McCabe, who is questionable for Saturday's game, the Maple Leafs surrendered two goals to Vancouver's fourth line.
"Their workers won the game for them tonight," said Toronto coach Pat Quinn. "It was one of those games where we probably, on overall play, shouldn't have lost... But we did."
Chad Kilger scored his fourth goal in as many games for the Maple Leafs, who leave on a four-game road trip following the contest.
STANDINGS: Coyotes - 44 points, 5th place, 16 PB, Pacific Division. Maple Leafs - 51 points, 3rd place, 10 PB, Northeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Coyotes - Ladislav Nagy and Mike Comrie, 14 goals; Nagy, 33 assists and 47 points; Sean O'Donnell, 102 PIM. Maple Leafs - Darcy Tucker, 18 goals; McCabe, 34 assists, 49 points and 56 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Coyotes - Power play: 17.8 percent (52 for 293), 13th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.6 percent (218 for 274), 27th. Maple Leafs - Power play: 20 percent (55 for 275), 5th. Penalty killing: 81.6 percent (222 for 272), 17th (tied).
GOALTENDERS: Coyotes - Joseph (16-12-0, 2 SO, 2.68 GAA); Boucher (3-4-0, 3.69). Maple Leafs - Ed Belfour (18-13-2, 0, 3.17); Mikael Tellqvist (6-3-1, 1, 2.43).
2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Maple Leafs, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Oct. 23, 2003; Maple Leafs, 5-4. At Phoenix, Owen Nolan had two goals and an assist as Toronto scored four times in the second period.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Coyotes - 10-12-1 on the road; Maple Leafs - 15-7-1 at home.