Islanders face Coyotes in second game of back-to-back

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes aren’t helping themselves much these days, especially in the offensive end. Maybe the Colorado Avalanche can provide their struggling Western Conference rival with some assistance.

“I don’t see much drive from some guys going to the net,” coach Rick Tocchet said after the Coyotes were held to 23 shots during a 3-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.

The Coyotes will be coming off a 1-3 road trip and five losses in their past six games when they open a three-game homestand by playing the New York Islanders at Gila River Arena on Tuesday night.

The Islanders will be playing the second half of a back-to-back after defeating the Avalanche 4-1 in Denver on Tuesday night – only the fourth time this season Colorado has been held to one goal or fewer.

On Thursday, the Coyotes will be at home against the Montreal Canadiens – who, yes indeed, will be coming off a game against the Avalanche on Wednesday.

In each game, the Coyotes will meet what is likely to be a tired opponent playing the second end of a back-to-back against what Islanders coach Barry Trotz calls a “high-end talent” team in the Avalanche. Arizona will have a day off between games.

Then, on Saturday, the Avalanche themselves will be the opponent for the final game of the Coyotes’ homestand. So if the Coyotes (14-16-2) are to make a move in the Pacific Division standings this week -they’re currently 11 points out of third place and a playoff spot – it might take a bit of assistance from the Avalanche.

The Coyotes finish out the week by playing at the San Jose Sharks on Sunday.

“We’ve got to focus on the next two points,” center Derek Stepan told the Arizona Republic. “And once we take care of business there, we can focus on Thursday’s two points and then Saturday’s two points and so on. They’re a crucial eight points and we’ve talked about getting as many as we can before (the Christmas break). You never know; you can crawl back into this thing if you get six out of eight (points) or seven out of eight.”

The Islanders (16-12-4) were floundering a bit, too, losing four of six before Thomas Greiss made 30 saves against Colorado and Johnny Boychuk scored his first goal of the season. The Islanders, beginning a four-game road trip, scored twice on the power play and also killed off a four-minute Colorado power play.

“We knew we were playing a talented team and we had to play a certain way – and we did,” Trotz said. “Special teams were good … and we got a save when we needed it. And with seconds to go, we’re still trying to block shots. … Guys are buying in.”

Tocchet, however, was unhappy with his team’s offensive execution – or lack thereof – at Carolina, so he moved rookie forward Conor Garland up to the No. 1 line with Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz in practice Monday. Tocchet has tried multiple players on that line since moving Alex Galchenyuk to the second line, including Nick Cousins.

Garland has played in only five NHL games, and doesn’t yet have a point after having eight goals and 19 points and being a plus-11 in 18 games at Tucson (AHL).

“One thing I like about him is he’s a really good second man on the puck,” Tocchet told the team’s website. “He’s really done a nice job of getting in some battles and winning some battles and generating (chances). Those are the things that he has to continue to do. I’ve been really happy with him. He’s starting to get some comfortability in his game.”

Cousins, coincidentally, has four goals and eight points in eight games against the Islanders, and Galchenyuk has six goals and 16 points in 16 games against them.

The Islanders are expected to start Robin Lehner (4-6-3, 2.66 goals-against average) in goal against Coyotes rookie Adin Hill (5-3, 1.97 goals-against average). Lehner has lost his last four decisions.

The Coyotes have won their last three at home against the Islanders.