Series (Game 1 of 5)

Los Angeles leads 4-1

Game 1: Wednesday, October 9th
Game 2: Sunday, December 15th
Game 3: Thursday, December 26th
Game 4: Wednesday, February 5th
Game 5: Monday, March 31st

Coyotes 1

(0-1-0, 0 pts)

Kings 4

(1-0-0, 2 pts)

10:30 PM ET, October 9, 2002

STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, California

1 2 3 T
ARI 0 1 01
LA 0 2 24

J. Allison (Kings - C): Goals: 0, Assists: 2

F. Potvin (Kings - G): Saves: 25, Save Pct.: .962

M. Schneider (Kings - D): Goals: 1, Assists: 1

Kings unbeaten in last nine season-openers

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- First the Los Angeles Kings paid tribute to Wayne Gretzky by retiring his No. 99 jersey. Then they beat his new team.


Eric Belanger and Ziggy Palffy scored second-period goals and the Kings opened the season with a 4-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday night.

Gretzky is managing partner of the Coyotes, but Kings coach Andy Murray said he didn't feel guilty about playing spoiler.

"Not the tiniest bit,'' Murray said. "He's everything, but his time ended at 7:54. It had to be our time after that.''

The Kings are undefeated in their last nine openers, with a 6-0-3 record. They tied Phoenix 2-2 on opening night last season.

Gretzky watched the game from a luxury box.

"Overall it was pretty sloppy,'' Phoenix coach Bob Francis said. "We'd better find some solutions in a hurry because we're not going to be able to play like that and be successful. We've got a lot of work to do.''

Los Angeles goalie Felix Potvin stopped 25 shots for the victory.

Mathieu Schneider and Palffy each had a goal and an assist, while Jason Allison assisted on both of the Kings' power-play goals.

"The whole 60 minutes we felt like we were in control,'' Allison said. "To really take charge and have a better season than we did last year, we have to be aggressive.''

A standing room-only crowd of 18,260 packed Staples Center to see Gretzky's silver-and-black jersey take its place on the arena's south wall next to those of former Kings stars Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor and Rogie Vachon.

Fans showered Gretzky with standing ovations and chanted his name. He left Los Angeles in a controversial trade in 1996, then retired three years later.

They kept on cheering when the Kings took a 1-0 lead on Belanger's goal at 6:32. He directed a rebound of Schneider's shot through the legs of Phoenix goalie Sean Burke, who had 29 saves.

Palffy's power-play goal came with Phoenix teammates Kelly Buchberger and Andrei Nazarov off for unsportsmanlike conduct. Waiting on the right side, Palffy stuck the puck past Burke's outstretched glove at 12:06.

The Coyotes cut it to 2-1 on a goal by Danny Markov at 18:10 of the second.

The Kings got two goals in the third period for a 4-1 lead.

Schneider scored on a power play at 9:32, and 32 seconds later Ian Laperriere scored when the puck bounced in off Burke's left shoulder.

"We didn't want to spend any time in the box, if possible, and we shot ourselves in the foot,'' Francis said. "When you do that against LA, with the skill they put out there, you're asking for trouble.''

Fans saw more than just the current Los Angeles and Phoenix lineups. Several of Gretzky's former teammates in Los Angeles and Edmonton, where he won four Stanley Cups, joined him in the pregame ceremony. Among them were Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Luc Robitaille, Kelly Hrudey and Rick Tocchet.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was booed when he addressed the crowd.

"There will never be another Wayne Gretzky,'' he said before the game. "You can't say enough about his impact.''

Game notes

Both teams wore No. 99 patches on the right front of their jerseys. ... Palffy led the Kings last season with 15 power-play goals, while Los Angeles' power play topped the NHL. ... Gretzky was joined by his wife and their four children for the ceremony. He held youngest son Tristan most of the time. "My other kids have gone through a few ceremonies in their time,'' he said. "My 2-year-old is really excited to get on the ice for the first time.'' ... A bronze statue of Gretzky in his Kings uniform was unveiled outside Staples Center.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press