After several long months of waiting, the NHL is finally returning tonight, as the Arizona Coyotes prepare to play the Los Angeles Kings in a pair of split squad games. There are many storylines to look at as the Desert Dogs take the ice for the first time this year, so let's take a look at some of the most important ones.
Matchup at a Glance
|Arizona Coyotes||Los Angeles Kings|
|Points||89 (4th Pacific)||100 (3rd Pacific)|
|Goals Per Game||2.56 (20th)||2.42 (26th)|
|Goals Against Per Game||2.73 (18th)||2.05 (1st)|
|Power Play Percentage||19.9% (4th)||15.1% (27th)|
|Penalty Kill Percentage||79.0 (26th)||83.1% (11th)|
|5v5 Fenwick For Percentage||50.0% (16th)||56.1% (1st)|
|PDO (SH% + SV%)||100.3 (10th)||100.0 (15th)|
View From Los Angeles
Could the Kings have had a more dramatic playoff run than last season's? They went down 3-0 to the San Jose Sharks before completing a stunning reverse sweep, then fell behind the Anaheim Ducks before knocking them out as well. After one of the most entertaining series in recent memory with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Kings would take down the New York Rangers in five games to win their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.
Unlike their 2012 run, the Kings seemed to succeed in spite of Jonathan Quick instead of because of him. He posted a very mediocre .915 save percentage in the regular season, and an even lower .911 in the playoffs. Whether or not it was because of the number of games played or an Olympic hangover of sorts, but Quick did not look like the Conn Smythe Winner from 2012 last season.
The Kings' roster from last year is almost identical to this season's. Although Willie Mitchell has since moved on to Florida, the Kings resigned last year's breakout playoff star Marian Gaborik for $4.875M a season through 2021. Younger players like Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, and Jake Muzzin will continue to develop while mainstays like Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, and of course, Dustin Brown, will seek to recapture what has given them so much success these past few seasons.
For more on the Kings, be sure to check out their SB Nation site, Jewels From The Crown.
View from Arizona
The Coyotes dazzled the Valley with one of the hottest starts in franchise history, going 14-4-3 through November 16th. That success could largely be explained by an above average shooting percentage that eventually started to taper off to more normal levels. When that happened, average to below-average goaltending from Mike Smith was not enough to buoy the Coyotes, and his injury in late March sealed the deal. The Coyotes went a disastrous 1-4-3 in their final eight games, including two shootout losses, to miss the playoffs by just two points.
This season, veterans like Keith Yandle, Shane Doan, and head coach Dave Tippett have all stressed the need to get back to their grinding style of play early on, and bank points consistently throughout the year instead of relying on a hot stretch in October or February to get them into the playoffs.
To help accomplish those goals, the team brought in Joe Vitale as their 4th line center from the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Sam Gagner to replace some of the offense lost from Mike Ribeiro (buyout) and Radim Vrbata (FA signed with Vancouver) leaving for different pastures. B.J. Crombeen will look to provide some of the toughness the team lost by not bringing back Paul Bissonnette.
In order to further fill holes in their offense, the Coyotes will be looking to a young crop of forwards poised to make the jump to the NHL. Max Domi is thought to be all but a lock to make the team, and kids like Henrik Samuelsson, Tobias Reider, Lucas Lessio, and Tyler Gaudet have all been identified as players to watch. If they don't make the roster out of training camp, there's a good chance their time will come later on in the season.
Keys to the Game
- Start Immediately. The Coyotes have four games over the next five days, most of which are on the road. If a player wants to make an impression, the earlier it happens, the better.
- Don't Get Hurt. Last year's tilt between the Kings and Coyotes became ugly very early on when Jordan Nolan essentially ended Rostislav Klesla's NHL career on a high hit. As much as the Coyotes dislike the Kings, it's preseason, and getting hurt now doesn't help anyone.
- Fundamentals. This is the time to create some chemistry with other players. Veterans need to focus on making simple, smart plays, while youngsters need to adjust their games to the speed and physicality of the NHL.
The results from rookie camp are in, and things went more or less as expected. Domi looks ready to start playing with the veterans, while Henrik Samuelsson appeared to address some of the skating issues that Don Maloney outlined were a concern with his game last year.
For Los Angeles, the big question will be whether or not Marian Gaborik can replicate the success he had in the postseason, or if he merely got hot at the right time.
Arizona will likely not have Mark Visentin in either game, as he left practice over the weekend with an apparent foot injury. General Manager Don Maloney did say that the injury is not as bad as initially feared, but better safe than sorry. Brendan Perlini, the Coyotes' 1st round draft pick this year, has a broken bone in his hand. He will remain with the team through camp, but will probably not skate again, according to Maloney.
The Kings will not have the services of either Jonathan Quick (offseason wrist surgery) or Drew Doughty (pre-training camp upper body injury). Both are expected to be back in time for the regular season, but there's little sense in rushing them back for games that don't matter in the standings.
The game in Glendale is set to begin at 7 p.m., while the game in Los Angeles will start at 7:30. Though there is no televised broadcast, however you can listen to tonight's home game on the radio on 98.7 FM.