As they watched the Phoenix Coyotes slip past them in the NHL standings Thursday night, the Kings had to notice the difference between the team they’d beaten in three of the previous four meetings and the one that pulled out a 1-0 win at Staples Center.
These Coyotes are playing lockdown defensive hockey, and goalie Mike Smith is taking care of what little gets through to him. Smith recorded his second shutout in as many starts and has allowed six goals in his last six starts, all wins and all against Western playoff contenders in San Jose, Detroit, Dallas, Calgary, Chicago and now Los Angeles.
“We deserve to win right now,” Smith said Thursday night. “At the start of the season, maybe we didn’t deserve to win some games. We lost some games that we deserved to win. Right now we’re finding ways to win, but we’re doing it the right way. That makes it that much better in the room here.”
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The game against the Kings featured four fights and over 50 penalty minutes but just one goal — Radim Vrbata’s 27th of the year on a second-period power play. From there, both teams went into lockdown mode.
“We knew it was probably going to be a low-scoring game, and we knew how good Smith’s been playing and how focused our goaltenders have been and we’ve counted on them huge, and tonight was no different,” Phoenix captain Shane Doan said.
Add in the one goal they allowed the Canucks in Vancouver before losing in a shootout last Monday and the Coyotes have allowed just seven goals in the last seven games, and they are 7-1-1 in the last nine games dating back to Jan. 24.
The Coyotes jumped over the Kings from eighth to seventh with the win and remain two points behind Chicago for sixth place in the West. They are 6-0-1 in February and have 13 of their last 24 games at home, including Saturday’s game with Dallas. NOTES, QUOTES
— The Coyotes had only 12 fighting majors all season before Thursday, but they had three in the first period alone against the Kings and finished the night with four, a third of their season total.
The fisticuffs started when Dustin Brown hit Coyotes defenseman Rostislav Klesla in a vulnerable position and left him injured. Shane Doan dispensed justice quickly, going after Brown and gaining a decision in the fight. Before the end of the period, Martin Hanzal and Raffi Torres had bouts of their own before enforcer Paul Bissonnette, playing for the first time since Jan. 10, got into the act with a fight against the Kings’ Kevin Westgarth.
Phoenix finished the night with a season-high 26 penalty minutes, with 19 of them coming in the first 20 minutes.
— The Coyotes’ defense got good news and bad news Thursday. Klesla suffered an upper-body injury on Brown’s hit and left the game for good. Coach Dave Tippett said the upper-body injury is day-to-day, but it appeared Klesla was in a lot of pain.
The good news was that Coyotes GM Don Maloney said defenseman David Schlemko — expected to miss the rest of the regular season after undergoing foot surgery in early January — is progressing much faster than anticipated and could be back on the ice within the next week or so. The Coyotes will welcome Schlemko back with open arms both for his scoring ability and improved defensive ability this year.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “He’s phenomenal. He’s one of the few skilled guys that we have on our team right now, and he’s really using his skill to have an effect on our team.” — Phoenix coach Dave Tippett on winger Radim Vrbata.