LOS ANGELES – Radim Vrbata scored two goals to lead the beleaguered Phoenix Coyotes to a 6-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night in the season opener for both teams.
Vrbata scored his first goal on a power play with an assist from Ed Jovanovski at 5:31 to put the Coyotes ahead 1-0 in the first period and his second off an assist from Petr Prucha to extend the Coyotes lead 4-1.
For a team that has endured bankruptcy and a recent coaching change, the Coyotes didn’t seem distracted. The franchise was put under bankruptcy protection in May and coach Wayne Gretzky quit nine days before the start of the season.
Robert Lang scored an unassisted goal at 8:25 in the final period capping the Coyotes’ offensive burst to make it 6-2.
Phoenix goalie Ilja Bryzgalov had 30 saves for the Coyotes (1-0) and Kings goalie Jonathan Quick 24 saves.
Anze Kopitar and Alexander Frolov each scored a goal for the Kings (0-1) in the second period and Drew Doughty scored the team’s final goal on a power play at 11:56 in the final period.
With the team’s future still undecided, the Coyotes seemed to use the game as a respite from the distractions. The Coyotes are now 5-1 in their last six season openers.
Earlier this week a Phoenix bankruptcy judge rejected two offers to buy the team that hasn’t turned a profit since moving from Winnipeg in 1996. One offer was from Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, who wanted to move the team to Hamilton.
The saga surrounding the Coyotes intensified when Gretzky resigned as head coach on Sept. 24. In four seasons the Coyotes went 143-161-24 under Gretzky, who missed all of the team’s pre-season games.
The NHL’s all-time leading scorer was replaced by former Dallas stars coach and Kings assistant coach Dave Tippett.
Phoenix built on its 1-0 lead when Matthew Lombardi was credited with scoring a goal at 17:48 in the opening period. Kings defenceman Matt Greene inadvertently knocked the puck into his own goal when he tried to block a pass from Lombardi to Scottie Upshall giving the Coyotes a 2-0 advantage.
Upshall later scored an unassisted goal 31 seconds into the final period extending the Coyotes’ lead 5-2.
The Kings scored two goals in the second period to get on the scoreboard.
After missing several shots from close range, the Kings scored their first goal on a power play when Kopitar scored at 10:37 with an assist from Ryan Smyth trimming the Coyotes lead to 3-1 in the second period.
Then Frolov scored on a 4-on-3 power play goal at 19:17 making it 4-2.
The Kings played without defenceman Sean O’Donnell, who is serving a two-game suspension for a match penalty during a pre-season game against the New York Islanders.