Kings-Coyotes Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 20, 2012
Second-half surges helped the Phoenix Coyotes advance to each of the last two postseasons. The Coyotes are hoping to take a similar path in 2011-12. Phoenix looks to extend its season-high point streak to nine Tuesday night at home when it concludes its season series against the low-scoring Los Angeles Kings. After a nine-game winning streak following the 2010 Olympic break helped them reach the postseason for the first time in eight years, Phoenix returned to the playoffs in 2011 thanks to two post-All-Star Game winning streaks of at least five games. The Coyotes (29-21-9) are at it again. They're 7-1-1 since this season's All-Star break - 7-0-1 in their last eight games - and have moved into seventh place in the Western Conference, two points ahead of Calgary and Los Angeles (27-21-11) and just two behind Pacific Division-leading San Jose. "In this conference, you need stretches like that to be in the playoff picture and we've done that," forward Radim Vrbata said Monday. Vrbata, who has a career-high 28 goals, can take much of the credit for the current surge as he has five goals and four assists during the team's eight-game point streak. He's scored the game-winner in four of the last six contests, including the lone goal in Thursday's 1-0 victory at Los Angeles that pulled the Coyotes even with the Kings in the standings. Phoenix pulled ahead of the Kings on Saturday with a 2-1 overtime win over Dallas. While Vrbata and Ray Whitney have combined for seven goals and 16 assists in the last 10 games, Mike Smith has been stellar between the pipes. The netminder, thriving as the starter in his first season in Phoenix, has a 0.99 goals-against average while winning each of his last seven starts. Smith turned aside 30 shots in Saturday's win after posting shutouts in each of his previous two starts, including a 28-save effort in Los Angeles. "We've got to come with the same mindset that it's kind of do or die for every team right now," Smith said. "I wouldn't expect anything less than a battle (on Tuesday)." The Kings, who are opening a stretch of nine of 12 games on the road, haven't put up much of a fight lately, getting shut out in each of their last two games. Saturday's 1-0 loss to Calgary marked the sixth time in eight contests that Los Angeles scored either one goal or none. "As frustrating as these last two games have been, offensively, we've got to refocus," said Kings captain Dustin Brown, who has a team-high two goals in five games versus the Coyotes in 2011-12. "We play Phoenix on Tuesday. We can't sit here and talk about what-ifs. We've got games to play.'' Getting back on track in the desert could be a challenge for the Kings, who are trying to avoid their first three-game skid since an 0-5-0 stretch Dec. 3-13. The Coyotes, meanwhile, are undefeated in their last five games at home, yielding three total goals in the last four. Phoenix snapped a four-game slide in this divisional rivalry the last time the Kings were in town, winning 3-2 in overtime Oct. 29. Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick made 30 saves in that contest after turning aside 28 shots in a 2-0 victory at Jobing.com Arena nine days earlier. Quick has stopped 42 of 43 shots in his last two games against Phoenix. He frequently needs to play that well to win, as his goal-support average is a league-low 2.01. The Kings' top four goal scorers - Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Brown and Justin Williams - have combined for only three in the last eight games.
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