Kings (19-14-7, 45 points) vs. Phoenix Coyotes (19-17-4, 42 points) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.
1. Rubber game – In the third week under coach Darryl Sutter, the Kings face their first true bounce-back game. After dominating the first two periods Monday night against the visiting Avalanche, they failed to clear the puck from their defensive zone while protecting a 1-0 lead with just under six minutes remaining. Colorado took advantage and potted the tying goal, then won in a shootout to drop Sutter’s record to 4-0-3 with the Kings. Though the players could have used the practice time, especially on their abysmal power play, Sutter gave them the day off Tuesday. Let’s see if they return the favor with a 60-minute effort.
2. You again? – It was just the night after Christmas that the Kings hosted Phoenix in what will be remembered as the day they ended their streak of 14 straight games without scoring more than two goals. It was hoped the 4-3 victory would be a launching pad for the Kings’ offense, but instead appears to be just another rise on the roller coaster. Since then, they’ve scored seven goals in four games to fall further back of the pack in league scoring with an average of just 2.10 goals a game. Maybe the Coyotes can light that fuse again?
3. Special guard star – Sutter invited former Los Angeles Kings forward Bernie Nicholls to participate in practice Wednesday, hoping a fresh set of eyes might spot some keys to the team’s scoring dilemma. Nicholls scored a franchise-record 70 goals as a member of the Kings during the 1988-89 season, one of only eight players in NHL history to accomplish that feat. Sutter scored 40 with the Blackhawks in 1980-81. Now if they can just talk Wayne Gretzky into sharing some of his tricks of the trade, they might be on to something.
4. Injury updates – It doesn’t look for good for veteran winger Simon Gagne or rookie defenseman Slava Voynov to return against the Coyotes. Gagne has been out since early last week because of a concussion, something he has dealt with on a few occasions during his career. Voynov has a less-specific upper-body injury, though it appears it’s also related to some rough contact in consecutive games late last week. Sutter appears to be sticking with his plan of filling Gagne’s spot by moving Mike Richards to left wing and inserting Andrei Loktionov at center. Alec Martinez, a lineup regular until Voynov stole his job this season, would get another start if Voynov can’t go against Phoenix.
5. New masked man – When the Coyotes were in town last week, they didn’t have the services of No. 1 goalie Mike Smith because of a groin injury. He’s back, however, giving up three goals in 30 shots in a 4-1 loss Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues. Smith hasn’t been dynamite this season, but anything’s better than Jason LaBarbera, who the Kings torched for four goals last week. Though the Coyotes have won just one of three meetings against the Kings this season, they remain one of the better road teams in the Western Conference, owing a 12-9-1 record away from the usually half-full Jobing.com Arena.