Saturday, 10.03.2009 / 4:30 PM
COYOTES (0-0-0) at KINGS (0-0-0)
Season series -- The Coyotes took four out of six games from their Pacific Division rivals last season, although the teams split a pair of home-and-home series in late December and early April. Phoenix captain Shane Doan scored three goals and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was 2-1 in three starts. But the Coyotes had no answer for Alexander Frolov, who torched them for six goals.
Big Story -- It has to be a relief for the Coyotes to finally be playing hockey, after an offseason full of questions about who would own them, where they would be playing and who would be the coach. The answer to the latter question is Dave Tippett, who perennially guided his teams in Dallas to the postseason until the Stars slipped last season. On the other side, the Kings added some veteran presence in the offseason and feel they're ready to challenge for a Western Conference playoff berth.
Coyotes: It's easy to forget following a poor finish to the 2008-09 season and everything that transpired over the summer, but Phoenix sat in fifth place when the League broke for the All-Star Game in Montreal. Their youth and inexperience likely played a key role in the Coyotes' inability to maintain that tenuous hold on a playoff spot, but there's still a lot of talent on this roster. Tippett is stressing a team approach.
"We're going to have to be a team with what I call a pack mentality," he said. "Everybody is going to have to pull their weight. As good as Shane Doan's numbers were last year, if the next guy in the scoring standings is far down again this year, then we're not going to be good enough. … The balance has to be there."
Kings: Adding forward Ryan Smyth in a trade with Colorado and signing free agent defenseman Rob Scuderi from Pittsburgh, where he just lifted a Stanley Cup, will make Los Angeles a more dangerous and tougher team to play against. Smyth joins a forward corps featuring Frolov, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, while Scuderi will aid in the development of youngsters Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson.
"To me, it's not a matter of surprising other teams with different looks and different systems," coach Terry Murray said. "It's to be able to execute the right way and the support for each other that is really critical. As we were talking about, that shot and net-presence mentality. That's the repetitions that you have to go through."
Who's Hot -- Wayne Simmonds scored nine goals as a rookie, but he tied Kopitar for the Kings' preseason lead with five, suggesting he might be ready to take the next step offensively. Bryzgalov appears tuned up for the regular season coming off a 27-save shutout performance against San Jose in the Coyotes' final exhibition game.
Injury Report -- Coyotes newcomer Taylor Pyatt is expected to miss another week or two due to a lower-body injury suffered during the preseason. The Kings are relatively healthy, though veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell will miss the team's first two games due to a suspension that carries over from the preseason.
Stat Pack -- 60 -- the number of games Murray would like to get out of No. 1 goalie Jonathan Quick this season. He combined for that many two seasons ago, but only three were in the NHL. If the Kings are going to compete for a playoff spot in a tough Western Conference, they need Quick to emerge as a top-flight netminder.
Puck Drop -- Teams like Columbus and St. Louis were Cinderella stories last season with their respective runs to the postseason -- here are two more teams that could benefit greatly from a playoff berth and have the potential to do it. But it's going to take results on the ice, and this game is crucial for both in getting off to a fast start.
-- Brian Hunter, NHL.com