To continue an impressive stretch at home following the holiday break, the Phoenix Coyotes must beat a well-rested opponent welcoming back some key players.
It’s also the only visiting team to win twice in Phoenix this season.
Looking to match the longest home winning streak in franchise history, the Coyotes will try to snap a three-game skid against Los Angeles on Saturday night as the Kings welcome back Jack Johnson(notes) and Ryan Smyth(notes).
The Coyotes (23-13-2) posted their eighth consecutive home win Wednesday, defeating Anaheim 4-0. Scottie Upshall(notes) scored his team-leading 13th goal and Ilya Bryzgalov(notes) turned aside 21 shots for his league-high fifth shutout.
“We executed well and paid attention to the little things because in the big picture it’s the little things in hockey,” Bryzgalov said.
That attention to detail has helped the Coyotes post their longest home win streak since the 2001-02 season - the last time they made the playoffs. The Winnipeg Jets won a franchise-best nine straight at home from Dec. 27, 1992-Jan. 23, 1993.
Though the NHL recently reached an agreement with an investment group pledging to keep the team in Arizona, uncertainty heading into this season over the club’s future has resulted in small crowds at Jobing.com Arena. Only 10,030 saw the win over the Ducks, and the Coyotes are last with an average home attendance of just over 9,800 despite a 14-5-0 record.
Two of those defeats came to the Kings - by 5-3 scores on Oct. 24 and Nov. 2. Phoenix also lost the most recent meeting, 3-2 in Los Angeles on Dec. 10 as Justin Williams(notes) beat Bryzgalov in the eighth round of a shootout.
Bryzgalov, though, has played a key role in Phoenix going 10-2-1 in its last 13 overall to move into fourth place in the Western Conference.
“There’s a lot of work to be done here yet,” first-year coach Dave Tippett told the Coyotes’ official Web site. “I like the way this group has come along and I give the players a ton of credit. … But there’s no awards for half the season. The second half gets tougher and gets more meaningful.”
Having Bryzgalov continue his emergence as a legitimate Vezina Trophy contender could make things a little easier. He’s tied with Buffalo’s Ryan Miller(notes) for third in the league with 21 wins and ranks third with a 2.02 goals-against average.
However, Bryzgalov is 1-1-1 with a 2.93 GAA in three starts against Los Angeles this season.
The Kings haven’t played since a 2-1 loss at Calgary on Dec. 17, so coach Terry Murray put them through long practices this week before a league-mandated two-day Christmas break.
“You try to recreate a lot of the game scenarios, within the practice,” he told the Kings’ official Web site. “Do things hard, do them fast, with intensity, but bottom line, it’s very hard to create that game scenario. That’s where we have to be very focused when we get back at it on the 26th.”
The return of Johnson, a top defenseman, and the high-scoring Smyth could be a big help to the Kings (22-12-3), who trail Phoenix by one point in the West. Johnson hasn’t played since Dec. 15 due to an ankle injury, while Smyth has missed 15 games with an upper-body injury.
A four-time 30-goal scorer in his first season with Los Angeles, Smyth has two goals and five assists in three games versus the Coyotes.