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Los Angeles Kings @ Phoenix Coyotes Preview: Pawns in the Game

As we enter the final month of the regular season the Phoenix Coyotes sit in a precarious position. What do they need to do against the defending Stanley Cup Champions to start the month off right?

Stephen Dunn

It's now or never for the Phoenix Coyotes if they stand a chance of making the playoffs. The Coyotes now stand eight points out of 7th place and four points out of 8th place. It will take one heck of a run to get back in the mix. With 5th place Los Angeles coming to town, this would seem to be a good time to start.

After a shaky start to the year, the Kings appear to be back to normal. At 20-12-3, LA has given itself a fairly decent cushion above the playoff cutoff line. Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter have lit up the stat sheets; Kopitar leads the team in points with 32 (10G, 22A), and Carter leads in goals with 20. The back end for the Kings also got an upgrade yesterday; the Sabres sent defenseman Robyn Regehr to LA in exchange for a couple of draft picks. Regehr upgrades their penalty kill and eats a ton of minutes.

If the Coyotes are going to be active on the trade market, it will likely be selling players off. There's a strong possibility that the lineup the Coyotes field tonight will be different than the one they will have on Thursday against Detroit. Although it's not impossible for the Coyotes to go on a major winning streak to get back into the playoff mix, the mountain they must climb is practically a cliff at this point.

Five For Winning

1. Score First - We've said this one so often it really needs no further explanation at this point.

2. Avoid the Chippy Stuff - Something tells me Shane Doan and Drew Doughty will meet for some extra-cirriculars at some point during this game. While that's to be expected, the Coyotes can't afford to have this game devolve into a penalty-fest. Their PK unit just isn't good enough to hold back a team with the front end skill that LA has.

3. Win the Possession Battle - The defense doesn't look as good as it has in previous years, and part of the problem is the Coyotes have been chasing the puck for long stretches in previous games. They need to win faceoffs and cycle in the offensive zone to ease the pressure on the defense.

4. Stay Hot - Radim Vrbata and Rob Klinkhammer have been the primary goal-scorers for this team of late. That will need to continue in the absence of production elsewhere in the lineup.

5. Win - The Kings are well above the Coyotes in the standings, so giving up a charity point isn't really that big of a deal. No matter how they do it, the Coyotes need to come away with 2 points from this game.

Players to Watch

Drew Doughty

#8 / Defenseman / Los Angeles Kings



Dec 08, 1989

G A P +/- PIM
2012 - Drew Doughty 1 13 14 0 24

Doughty undoubtedly irritated a few people in the Coyotes' locker room when he referred to them as "the biggest whiners in the NHL" along with the Canucks (evidently Doughty doesn't remember this little episode of his from the playoffs). One way or another, he will likely have to answer for his comments tonight. A strong game from him would do a lot to back up his talk.

Shane Doan

#19 / Left Wing / Phoenix Coyotes



Oct 10, 1976

G A P +/- PIM
2012 - Shane Doan 11 10 21 4 25

It's time. The season hangs by a thread, the team is struggling to find its groove, and the Coyotes need someone to step up. Doan almost single-handedly beat the Kings the last time they met; they'd love for him to do it again.

Projected Starting Goaltenders

Jonathan Quick

#32 / Goalie / Los Angeles Kings



Jan 21, 1986

2012 - Jonathan Quick 27 1521 12 10 64 2.52 611 547 .895 1

The starter for this game is honestly a toss-up; Jonathan Quick is a world-class goaltender and Jonathan Bernier has played exceptionally well this season. The Kings may want to give Quick more work down the stretch to get him ready for the postseason.

Jason LaBarbera

#1 / Goalie / Phoenix Coyotes



Jan 18, 1980

2012 - Jason LaBarbera 12 546 2 5 24 2.64 291 267 .918 0

There is no doubt who will be in net tonight for the Coyotes. Mike Smith started skating again but remains on IR, so Jason LaBarbera will step up to the plate once again. The Coyotes could really use a strong performance from him tonight.

Puck Drop

The Coyotes will get underway at Arena tonight at 7PM. You can catch the game on Fox Sports Arizona Plus and XTRA 910 AM.