The Los Angeles Kings will visit the Phoenix Coyotes tonight, returning to Jobing.com Arena for the first time since clinching a Stanley Cup Finals berth with an overtime win in game 5 of last year's Western Conference finals.
The Kings (0-2-1) have not won a game yet this year, and are coming off a heart-breaking 2-1 loss in Edmonton. The Oilers scored a game-tying goal with 4.7 seconds remaining in regulation, and later won it with a power-play goal 3:01 into overtime. Kings defenseman Drew Doughty is sensing the urgency to get a one in the win column, via the Los Angeles Times.
"I know everyone right now is pretty down with [Thursday's] loss," said Doughty. "We should have won that game, we're not happy with ourselves…Going into the next one – no ifs, ands or buts – we've got to win that one."
The top line for the Kings of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, and Justin Williams continues to struggle, producing nothing offensively so far this season.
Like the Kings, the Coyotes (1-3-0) are also struggling at the outset of the season and coming off a late-game meltdown, coughing up a 3-1 third period lead in losing 5-3 to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday. The Coyotes gave up four unanswered goals to the Sharks in the final 10:45 of that game.
There is a different feel to tonights game, as both teams come with poor records, and the hero of their previous meeting, Dustin Penner, may not even be in the lineup this evening. He was a healthy scratch in Thursday's game against the Oilers, and it is likely that Penner will be sitting again in Phoenix. Penner scored the game-winning goal in the Kings' 4-3 game 5 triumph in the conference finals last year, but has struggled to stay in the lineup so far this season.
The Coyotes will also be without one of their top players from last season, goaltender Mike Smith, who left in the final period of Wednesday's victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets with a lower-body injury. Starting in his place tonight will be former Kings goalie Jason LaBarbera. The Coyotes backup goaltender made his first start of the season in Thursday's 5-3 loss to the Sharks.
The Kings have shown signs of returning to form defensively over the past two games, but the offense has remained cold since the start of the season. They have struggled mightily on the power-play, going 0 for 19, but a visit to Phoenix just might help the Kings get going offensively, facing a backup goalie, and a penalty kill that has allowed five power-play goals on 19 opportunities.
The Coyotes have a different look this season, losing one of their better offensive players in 40-year-old Ray Whitney, but also adding a few pieces during the offseason. Center Matthew Lombardi, who played with the Coyotes from 2009 to 2010, and winger Steve Sullivan are notable acquisitions. Lombardi will be out of the lineup tonight due to an upper-body injury.
Last year's conference final was physical and full of controversy, with the captains of both teams in the center of most of the action. Kings captain Dustin Brown crushed Coyotes defenseman Michal Rozsival (now with the Chicago Blackhawks) with a border-line hit toward the end of the series finale. The hit enraged the entire Coyotes team, who were looking for a penalty call from the referees. Moments later, Penner scored and the Kings were moving on to the Stanley Cup Finals. Coyotes captain Shane Doan had some words for Brown in the hand shake line, adding to the heat between the two teams.
Despite the Kings and Coyotes both coming into tonight with poor records, this game will surely be carried by the controversy and storylines from last year's postseason. One of their records will improve, because there are no ties in hockey anymore, so somebody has to win.
Tags: Darryl Sutter, Drew Doughty, Dustin Penner, Hockey, Jason LaBarbera, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Kings, NHL, Phoenix Coyotes