The Phoenix Coyotes have been one of the league’s best defensive teams, helping them to a five-game winning streak and a return to relevance after six straight seasons without a playoff berth.
The Los Angeles Kings, however, haven’t been impressed, and they’ll try for a third straight victory both overall and against Phoenix as two of the NHL’s surprise contenders square off again Thursday at Staples Center.
Phoenix’s 2.27 team goals-against average, which ranks second to Chicago in the Western Conference, can be credited in large part to the play of Ilya Bryzgalov(notes), who ranks third in the NHL in GAA (1.99) and is tied for second in wins (17).
Bryzgalov has been in net for the Coyotes’ entire winning streak, compiling a 1.39 GAA in that stretch and earning his fourth shutout of the season with 28 saves in a 2-0 win over Minnesota on Monday.
“Yeah, I guess he’s doing OK for us right now,” Phoenix captain Shane Doan(notes) joked. “He’s so confident and he makes the game look so easy even when it isn’t. He always squares to the puck and guys are always hitting him in the middle of his body. As a shooter, that’s so frustrating.
“When your goalie is the best player on the ice, it’s a lot easier to play the game.”
Although veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski(notes) will miss Thursday’s game, beginning a two-game suspension for a blow to the head against Minnesota, the Coyotes (18-11-1) will be trying to win six straight for the first time since a seven-game run midway through the 2006-07 season.
The surge, which has continued even though Phoenix is 0 for 18 on the power play in the last five games, has boosted the team to sixth place in the West, two spots behind the Kings.
“The buzz can be on the outside, but on the inside of the room we know exactly what we should be doing,” first-year coach Dave Tippett told the Coyotes’ official Web site. “You recognize what you’re doing when you’re having success, but every day is a new day and you’re only as good as your last game.”
They could be even higher if not for their 1-2-0 record against Los Angeles, one of the few teams that has consistently solved Phoenix’s defense. The Kings have scored 13 goals in the three matchups, including 5-3 road wins in each of the last two.
The Kings (19-10-3) have used an improved offense as they try to snap a playoff drought that equals Phoenix’s slump. They’ve scored at least four goals in four of their last five games, including a 5-4 overtime win over Pacific Division-leading San Jose on Wednesday night.
“Obviously it’s huge for our team, not only in the standings but emotionally it’s a big boost for us knowing we’re capable of playing with these guys,” said right wing Dustin Brown(notes), who scored the game-winner. “To come in here and get points is a huge boost for us.”
Brown’s goal was his first since Nov. 7, and Los Angeles could be even more encouraged after getting a goal from Anze Kopitar(notes), who had not scored since Nov. 9. Kopitar has scored just three of his team-leading 36 points in the last eight games.