Coyotes-Kings Preview

The Associated Press

Phoenix Coyotes coach Dave Tippett has been none too pleased with his team's efforts at home lately.

The Coyotes' performance on the road, though, has been anything but unsatisfactory.

Phoenix returns from the Christmas break with a road-heavy stretch of games, starting Monday night against a Los Angeles Kings team in the midst of a frustrating scoring slump.

The Coyotes (18-14-3) lost for the fourth time in five home games Friday, dropping to 7-8-2 on their own ice with a 3-2 defeat to St. Louis.

"We've been banging our head against the wall trying to figure out why," Tippett said. "If you had told me that by Christmas we'd be a game under .500 (at home), I would be very surprised. That's something that's going to have to change. It's unacceptable to have the home record we do."

While unable to get much going at home, Phoenix has won four of six on the road and is a Western Conference-best 11-6-1 as the visiting team. The Coyotes, who play eight of their next 10 on the road, rank ninth in the league with 2.78 goals per game away from home.

Phoenix has scored at least three goals in 11 road games and has to like its chances of defeating the Kings (16-14-5) if it can reach that total Monday. Los Angeles has scored fewer than three goals in regulation in 14 consecutive games - the longest such stretch in franchise history.

The Kings' last three games have gone to shootouts, winning the first two before failing to score in four attempts in the tiebreaker during Friday's 2-1 loss at San Jose. Jonathan Quick more than held his own with a 34-save display, but Mike Richards' team-leading 13th goal proved to be the team's only offense.

"We played better as the game went on and we had a real good third period," said new coach Darryl Sutter, 1-0-1 since taking over. "The effort was great, but what will stick out is not being able to bury one of our other chances."

Much of the Kings' struggles can be linked to their scuffles on the power play. Los Angeles has converted an NHL-worst 5 of 57 (8.8 percent) on the man advantage since Nov. 19.

The Kings, though, could catch a break if Coyotes starting goalie Mike Smith is forced to miss a third straight game. Smith, dealing with a lower-body injury, is 6-2-0 with a 1.62 goals-against average in eight career games against Los Angeles and has allowed four goals in three starts at Staples Center.

Jason LaBarbera went 1-1-0 with a 3.02 GAA while filling in for Smith last week. He turned away just 15 shots Friday, dropping to 3-4-0 in seven starts on the season.

"When you don't get to play a lot - then all of a sudden you get thrown in there - maybe you're not used to it, but you gotta find a way to get through it," LaBarbera said.

LaBarbera, who spent three-plus seasons in the Kings organization, has gone 1-1-0 with a 2.89 GAA in two meetings against his former team.

Quick had won three straight starts in this series before turning away 30 shots in a 3-2 overtime loss at Phoenix on Oct. 29. He ranks eighth in the league with a 1.83 home GAA.

Quick may not have to worry about facing center Martin Hanzal, whose status remains uncertain after getting checked into the boards and exiting Friday's contest. Hanzal has four goals and six assists in his last 11 matchups versus Los Angeles.

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