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Greiss, Coyotes shut out slumping Kings

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Phoenix Coyotes have put themselves in catch-up mode in the Western Conference playoff race. But with five of six games at home before the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, they see this stretch as a chance to make up ground.

Tuesday was a good start.

Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored two goals, captain Shane Doan earned his 500th career assist and the Coyotes opened a five-game homestand by beating the Los Angeles Kings 3-0.

The ninth-place Coyotes crept within three points of Vancouver for eighth place in the West and stayed four points behind the seventh-place Minnesota Wild, who beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-2 on Tuesday.

"We've put ourselves into an average spot in the league. We have to be better than that if we want to make the playoffs," Doan said. "We have to find a way to climb and keep climbing and hopefully this is a step in the right direction. We have to get even better."

Playing for the first time in more than two weeks, Thomas Greiss made 30 saves to earn his third career shutout and second this month. Ekman-Larsson gave Greiss all the offense he would need with his third career two-goal game, matching his goal total in the previous 31 games.

Greiss made all the big saves, including two stops on Jeff Carter and another on Trevor Lewis. His teammates did the rest, keeping the Kings on the perimeter for much of the night.

"We played a simple game," said Greiss, who shut out the Calgary Flames on Jan. 7, hadn't played since being pulled 30 minutes into a 5-3 loss against the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 11. "We stuck to our strengths, got the puck out and we forechecked well. We got the goals we needed and had a good penalty kill too."

Antoine Vermette scored his team-leading 19th goal in the third period to seal the victory against the struggling Kings, who have scored two goals in their past four games (1-3-0).

After going 11 games without a goal, Vermette has seven in his past seven games and four in the past two.

"It's one of those stretches and you'll take it sometimes it goes the other way," said Vermette, whose hot streak includes three shorthanded goals. "We're an effective line right now. We play fast and we have the confidence to use our speed, on offense and defense. We are finding ways to turn pucks over and get chances out of it."

Lauri Korpikoski extended his point streak to a career-high five games with an assist.

The Kings came into the game averaging 1.77 goals in January and were shut out for the third time this month. They squeezed out a 1-0 road win against the San Jose Sharks on Monday.

"There are team-wide frustrations and a personal frustration for some guys in here," captain Dustin Brown said. "I mean, I'm frustrated with the way I'm playing; it doesn't lend itself to getting goals and getting points.

"Phoenix did a really good job. I don't know how many shots we had or how many really good chances we had. That's probably a bit of them playing well and us not being hungry enough to get in the dirty areas"

Jonathan Quick made 26 saves but allowed three goals for the second time in his past eight starts.

Doan set up Ekman-Larsson's second-period power-play goal to join Thomas Steen (553) and Dale Hawerchuk (550) as the only players in Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise history with 500 or more assists.

"It means you've played for a long time," Doan said with a smile. "Especially in my case, when you're not that good but you've been around for a while. Those other guys didn't play here as long, and they are still way ahead of me."

The Kings had a 13-11 lead in shots after the first period, but the Coyotes had the better scoring chances and got a lot of traffic in front of the Los Angeles net. Quick made a great save on Jeff Halpern and got a hand from defenseman Drew Doughty, who swatted an airborne puck away from the crease with his goalie down and out.

Vermette helped to open the scoring when he picked off a pass from defenseman Slava Voynov and sent it back to the point. Ekman-Larsson walked the line to find room before firing a wrist shot that beat Quick high to his stick side at 15:57.

Phoenix doubled its lead early in the second after Los Angeles center Jordan Nolan was called for interference for a high hit on Kyle Chipchura in the neutral zone. Chipchura went to the dressing room, but was able to return.

Nolan was in the box for 12 seconds before Doan found Ekman-Larsson with a diagonal pass at the point. The defenseman's shot deflected off a stick and past Quick at 3:16. The Coyotes have a power-play goal in 11 of their past 12 games.

"They play a physical, heavy style, and I think we have a group of guys who seem to relish that and play better in that," said Doan, who notched his 75th career point against the Kings, the most he has against any team. "Our fourth line was great, it shows the kind of character they have. In the first period they were our best line and they set the tone."

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