Coyotes coach Dave Tippett thinks of one thing when he watches Eastern Conference teams struggle against Western opponents before they get to Phoenix: His team must keep pace.
So far, so good for the Coyotes, who despite injuries and illness have stayed in the hunt in the rugged West thanks to their dominance of the weaker East.
The Coyotes were again without top goal scorer Shane Doan due to an illness on Thursday night, but it didn’t matter. Rob Klinkhammer had two goals and an assist, Mikkel Boedker scored twice, and Mike Ribeiro added a goal and two assists in a 6-3 win over the hapless New York Islanders.
Keith Yandle added a goal, and Mike Smith made 21 saves in his return after missing a game due to illness as the Coyotes improved to 8-1-1 against Eastern teams.
"They go through California and whatever and it seems like they lose games there," Tippett said of the Eastern clubs. "So we look at it as if we lose to them then we’re losing ground on people."
The Coyotes snapped a three-game home losing skid and avenged their lone defeat to an Eastern team — a 6-1 rout by the Islanders two months ago — with an all-around effort.
"Everyone can chip in. Everyone can score," Ribeiro said. "I think it’s hard for other teams to match up against us."
Weary at the end of a five-game trip, the Islanders were no match.
"I thought our forwards were really skating tonight, and as a back end, as a group, it wasn’t there," defenseman Thomas Hickey said.
John Tavares netted his 13th goal, and Eric Boulton and Kyle Okposo also scored for the Islanders. Two nights after making 46 saves in a shootout victory over San Jose, Kevin Poulin allowed all six goals on 36 shots in New York’s 11th loss in 12 games.
Not even the return of defenseman Brian Strait, who missed 23 games due to injury, could help the Islanders, who were plagued by turnovers and shaky blue-line play.
"We just couldn’t get in a rhythm, and for whatever reason we tried to overhandle the puck. You’re not going to have success in this league," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "Guys are too fast, too strong."
Islanders top prospect Ryan Strome didn’t get the chance to make his NHL debut. A day after the No. 5 pick in the 2011 draft was called up from Bridgeport of the AHL, Strome went through the morning skate but was a healthy scratch.
Capuano said he wanted to get the 20-year-old center "acclimated in our meetings" before he plays.
New York, outshot 17-6 in the first period when center Casey Cizikas left with a jaw injury, entered last in the league on the penalty kill at 71.3 percent. Yandle’s power-play goal made it 1-1.
Klinkhammer made it 2-1 when his centering pass from the corner bounced off defenseman Aaron Ness’ stick and into the net at 2:34 of the second.
Less than two minutes later, Boedker slipped a shot past an out-of-position Poulin following a pileup in front.
The Coyotes went ahead 4-1 at 6:15 when Ribeiro beat Poulin high for his ninth goal.
The Islanders recovered, getting goals from Tavares and Okposo (10th). The second was a soft shot that trickled through Smith to make it 4-3.
But the Coyotes settled down the rest of the way amid some reason for optimism regarding Doan, who missed his third straight game and has undergone a series of tests since being sidelined.
Tippett said it was possible he will accompany the team on a trip to eastern Canada starting Tuesday, when the Coyotes hope to continue to feast on the East.
"It’s about us making sure we’re staying in the pack in the West here," he said.
NOTES: The Islanders activated G Evgeni Nabokov from the injured list and sent Anders Nilsson to Bridgeport (AHL). Nabokov, who missed 11 games with a groin injury, backed up Poulin. … New York D Radek Martinek (back spasms) replaced Strait on the injured list. . D Matt Carkner was a healthy scratch for New York. . Coyotes D Derek Morris (personal issue) missed his third straight game, but Tippett expects him to return this week. … C Frans Nielsen played in his 400th NHL game, all with the Islanders.