LOS ANGELES – The Phoenix Coyotes managed to avoid the post-Christmas blahs and play a solid defensive game against the Los Angeles Kings in the opener of a back-to-back set with their Pacific Division rivals.
Peter Mueller ended a 21-game goal drought, and Shane Doan scored on a power play, leading the Coyotes to a 2-1 victory Friday night.
“This was a nice effort for us,” coach Wayne Gretzky said. “As a player, the hardest game to play is always December 26th because you’ve been off a couple of days and you have a lot of family and friends around – and then you’ve got to travel.
“So, for our guys to be as focused as they were tonight for that game and play as well as they did, I’m really happy for them.”
Ilya Bryzgalov beat the Kings for the sixth straight time, stopping 24 shots after making a career-high 43 saves Tuesday night in a 5-4 overtime loss at Colorado.
“Surprisingly, winning low-scoring games hasn’t been our problem this year as a team,” Gretzky said. “Defensively, we’ve been pretty sound and our young guys have done a nice job of winning close games. I’d like to see us win a few 6-5 games, but I like these 2-1 wins, too. Those are nice wins for us.”
Defenseman Peter Harrold scored a power-play goal for Los Angeles with 11:11 remaining, after getting his first of the season Tuesday night in a 3-0 win at Columbus. Jonathan Quick, who had his first NHL shutout in that game, stopped 24 Phoenix shots in his sixth career start and third in a row.
The Kings have lost five of their last six games.
“The team battled. We just came up a little bit short,” Quick said. “We’ve got to refocus and go back into Phoenix tomorrow and try to come out with a different outcome. These are games we need to win.”
The Coyotes and Kings are among seven teams separated by five points in the race for the final three Western Conference playoff spots, and Phoenix has a five-point edge on Los Angeles.
“There’s a lot of hockey left. But to be where we are in the standings, we’re pretty happy where we are right now,” Gretzky said. “Our team has played hard. They’re a fun group of kids and they work hard every night. We’ve had some tough games here and there and have taken our lumps, but all in all, they come to play every game.”
Kings defenseman Kyle Quincey received a roughing penalty with 2:22 left in the second period, and the Coyotes scored 5 seconds later. Kyle Turris won a faceoff from Michal Handzus deep in the zone, and Doan redirected Olli Jokinen’s slap shot from the right point through Quick’s legs for his 17th goal and a 2-0 lead.
“Shane has played really well all year. It’s one of the best years I’ve seen him have,” Gretzky said. “He’s been outstanding. He’s a tremendous captain and he’s been a good leader for our group. It’s good to see him score some big goals for us at key times in the game. That’s what a leader does.”
Mueller opened the scoring at 10:44 of the first period. He finished off a 2-on-1 rush against defenseman Sean O’Donnell by steering Doan’s cross-ice feed past Quick’s outstretched left leg for his sixth this season and first since scoring in back-to-back home wins Nov. 8-9 against Florida and San Jose.
“He’s as pure a goal-scorer as there is on our team,” Doan said. “You always press when you’re a scorer and you’re not scoring, but he’s been playing phenomenal for probably the last 10 games. He’s just been a little snake-bit, but he’s the reason we were able to come back in the game at Colorado.”
The Kings got on the board 9 seconds after Jokinen was sent off for holding. Harrold got a return pass from Anze Kopitar and scored on a slap shot from just inside the blue line while teammate Dustin Brown was screening Bryzgalov at the edge of the crease. The goal came just 43 seconds after Phoenix killed off an elbowing penalty against Kurt Sauer.
“We’re a young team and we know we have to win the specialty-teams battle. And the best way to do that is eliminate their opportunities and try to get as many as you can,” Doan said. “The goal by their power play was a big one to get them back into it, and obviously it gave them a chance. It made the last 10 minutes a lot more exciting.”
The Coyotes, who were short-handed only once against the Kings in a 4-2 victory on Dec. 2 at Phoenix, didn’t get their first penalty in this one until Derek Morris was sent off for interference against Brown in front of the Phoenix net at 13:28 of the second period. The Coyotes got a break during the ensuing power play when Kings rookie defenseman Drew Doughty’s 55-foot wrist shot hit the right post.
Notes: Gretzky’s daughter, Paulina, sang the National Anthem. … Doan’s 56 career points against Los Angeles are the most he has against any team. … Jason LaBarbera, who has lost six consecutive starts against Phoenix, served as Quick’s backup. Erik Ersberg missed his fifth straight game because of a groin injury.