What to Watch For: Kings vs. Coyotes
By THOMAS LAROCCA
March 3, 2011
The Kings and Coyotes, separated by just two points in the standings, face off Thursday night at STAPLES Center. Click here for a full preview. The Kings have struggled against Phoenix with a 1-3 record and LA's 2-0 shutout loss in LA on Jan. 20 may have been the low point of the season, coming off that tough January homestand, but LA quickly righted the ship with a 4-3 victory - the Kings lone vs. the Coyotes this year - at Phoenix two nights later.
The win ignited an 11-1-3 run which brought the Kings back in to the playoff picture.
Dustin Penner will make his Kings debut playing on the top line with C Anze Kopitar and RW Wayne Simmonds. Head coach Terry Murray - known for juggling his lines - has used rookie Kyle Clifford, proven goal-scorer Ryan Smyth, energy winger Brad Richardson and even shutdown center Michal Handzus, in a first line left wing role, trying to find a spark.
Penner, who had an excellent practice on Wednesday with the Kings, was acquired at the trade deadline by Dean Lombardi to be the big scoring left winger the Kings have long sought. Penner, who has potted four 20-goal seasons, is expected to bring instant offense to the top line.
Click here for a Heidi Androl's interview of Dustin Penner.
The fifth-place Coyotes at 33-22-10 hold a two-point edge on the Los Angeles Kings, 35-24-4, but the Kings have played two less games...if the playoffs started today, four of the five Pacific Division teams would make the playoffs with Anaheim just one point off the pace in ninth place, 34-25-5, 73 points.
The San Jose Sharks, which leads the Pacific division and is third in the conference overall with a 37-21-6 mark and 80 points, host Detroit tonight as well in another game with playoff seeding implications.
Click here for more on the Western Conference playoff race.
The Kings will have one more meeting with PHX on April 4.
THE KID IN NET
Rookie Jonathan Bernier is slated to get the start in net tonight, in for the suddenly struggling Jonathan Quick who has surrendered eight goals in his last 58 minutes in net. Quick gave up two late goals in the Kings 3-2 win over Colorado on Feb. 26 and was yanked two days later after getting bombed for six goals vs. Detroit. Quick is fifth in the NHL with 28 wins and third in shutouts with six. For the season, the Kings No. 1 stopper has posted a 28-16-2 mark with a 2.23 GAA and .917 SV%.
Bernier, his 22-year-old back up, is 7-8-2 on the season with a .904 SV% and a 2.70 GAA. He has gone 2-0-2 in his last four starts but was not especially crisp in his last appearance, giving up a goal on three shots in relief of Quick in that 7-4 loss to Detroit.