May 14, 2012 6:45 pm

Centers in the middle of it all

An earlier item touched on areas that the Phoenix Coyotes might seek to change in Game 2. First and foremost on that list will be trying to limit the effectiveness of the Kings’ first line of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. Not only did the Kings get goals from Brown and Kopitar in Game 1, and a total of 15 shots on goal from those three players, but the line set the tone for the rest of the team to follow. Kopitar, in particular, was an effective puckhandler in the offensive zone, and there’s little doubt that the Coyotes will try to be more aggressive with that line and limit possession time. After practice today, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett and center Martin Hanzal talked about improving their play against the Kings’ top line.

TIPPETT: “We’ve gone up against some pretty good teams, pretty good center ice (players) here. We know what we’re up against. Like I said last night, I’m more concerned about making sure our guys play to their capabilities, we get everybody playing the way we think they should be playing, judge what the other team is doing. If we can get up to speed, see where we can get to. That’s the sense of our guys today. We recognized that L.A. played a strong game last night, but I think we can be much better than we were. Center ice is obviously very important in that. Our whole group can be a lot better.’’

HANZAL: “Obviously, their top two lines are really skilled, real strong on the puck. We’ve got to make sure we can be hard on these guys, physical and take the time and the space away from them and that’s going to be a key tomorrow.’’

The center matchup was also a storyline when the Kings played the St. Louis Blues, and the Kings faired well in that matchup. The Coyotes are also deep at center, and Darryl Sutter once again is looking toward the middle of the ice as a good measuring stick for both teams.

SUTTER: “Well, we liked them in our first two series, the matchups. We talked about it being an important part of it. I know everybody is talking about the matchups in this series. But that is just as important. When you look at Marty Hanzal and Vermette and Boyd Gordon and Daymond, four key guys on their team (against) four key guys on our team. You look at it in that light, in terms of expectations, minutes, how they’re used, there’s similarities. I said when I came here, I thought it was the strongest part of our team. Last year, Kopitar never played in the playoffs. Richie [Mike Richards] wasn’t here. Jarret Stoll was suspended one game. Fraz [Colin Fraser] was not here. If you look at it, it’s a total shift in that position. You know how important that position is.’’

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