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Pacific Division clash pits Kings vs. Coyotes

by Dave Lozo
COYOTES (19-17-4) at KINGS (19-14-7)


Last 10:
Phoenix 4-5-1; Los Angeles 6-1-3

Season Series: This is the fourth of six meetings between the clubs. The Kings are 2-0-1 against the Coyotes. In their most recent matchup on Dec. 26, the Kings emerged with a 4-3 home victory.

Big Story:
Excluding the Anaheim Ducks, the Pacific Division is as tight as can be. The Kings led the division entering Wednesday's action with 45 points while the fourth-place Coyotes had 42 points. The Sharks and Stars had 44 and 43 points, respectively. With the division up for grabs right now, divisional games like this one carry even more meaning.

Team Scope:

Coyotes: Goaltender Mike Smith returned to action Tuesday after missing two weeks with a groin injury. The Coyotes went 2-4-1 without him, but their losing ways continued in his return.

Smith allowed three goals on 30 shots in a 4-1 road loss to the St. Louis Blues.

"It's always nice to get back, but it's not the outcome we were looking for," Smith said. "We got out-competed tonight. We've got to find ways to win hockey games."
Added coach Dave Tippett, whose team is 0-2-0 against the Blues this season: "We needed to put more will and commitment into the game. They won a lot more of the one-on-one battles than we did. Our execution was slow and poor."

Kings: Offense continues to be a problem -- the Kings are 30th in the NHL at 2.10 goals per game -- but they've found success lately under new coach Darryl Sutter.

The Kings are 4-0-3 in Sutter's seven games. They are coming of a 2-1 shootout loss to the Avalanche on Monday. The Kings have scored 14 goals and allowed 9 goals during that stretch.

"The goalies were on their game tonight," forward Anze Kopitar said following the loss to the Avs. "We had a few good shifts and had some scoring chances, but we just couldn't bury them and it came back to bite us. We had a bunch of 2-on-1s. I had a chance in overtime and I don't know why I didn't shoot it, but I should have put it on net. Maybe something could have happened."

Who's Hot:
Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata has 3 goals in his last two games. … In his last seven starts, Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick has allowed more than two goals only once. He has allowed two goals in his last three games.

Injury Report: For Phoenix, Kurt Sauer (post-concussion syndrome), Boyd Gordon (lower body), and Martin Hanzal (face) are all on IR. … Los Angeles will also be without a key attacker after Simon Gagne went out indefinitely on Dec. 27 with an upper-body injury.

Stat Pack:
If the Kings finish with the fewest goals in the NHL, it doesn't bode well for their playoff chances. Only one team (Boston in 2009) has made the playoffs with that type of offensive futility since 1989.

Puck Drop:
"We're just trying to battle and get everybody to play hard. On the tying goal, (Kyle Clifford) makes a mistake along the wall. It's one of those things where you're just trying to get him to do it right, over and over and over. You just learn from it." -- Sutter, after the Kings' loss to the Avs

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