Coyotes return home to take on ice-cold Islanders
The Phoenix Coyotes have returned from a four-game trip, and as good as the comforts of home were to them for most of the season, that hasn’t been the case lately.
Perhaps they can reverse that trend against the New York Islanders, who just ended one of the worst road losing streaks in franchise history. Although captain Shane Doan’s status is uncertain, Phoenix hopes to snap a three-game home slide and deal the Islanders their 11th loss in 12 games Thursday night.
The Coyotes (17-8-5) are coming off a 2-1-1 road swing which featured Antoine Vermette recording three goals and two assists. Vermette, playing in his 700th game, finished with two goals and Thomas Greiss stopped 29 shots as Phoenix pulled out a 3-1 victory in Colorado on Tuesday.
“Good timing,” Vermette said of his milestone performance. “If it happens this way, I’ll take it.”
Greiss, told he would start after Mike Smith became ill Tuesday morning, is 4-1-0 with a 2.17 goals-against average in five starts this season. Smith is 1-3-2 with a 3.47 GAA in his last six.
“It’s no problem,” Greiss told the team’s official website. “You have to be ready if it’s injury or sickness.”
It’s unclear whether Doan, who leads the team with 12 goals, will be ready after missing the past two games due to illness. The only hat trick of his 18-year career came in a 5-1 victory over the Islanders in the most recent meeting in Phoenix on Jan. 7, 2012.
The Coyotes also could be without defenseman Derek Morris (personal) and winger Lauri Korpikoski (lower body).
Since going 9-0-1 in its first 10 home games, Phoenix is 0-2-1 in the last three while giving up 13 goals. The team hasn’t had a longer home losing streak since dropping five straight Jan. 17-Feb. 2, 2011.
While the last three home losses came to NHL-best Chicago, Pacific Division leader Anaheim and Colorado, the Coyotes could end their slide against the Metropolitan-worst Islanders (9-18-5).
New York finally ended its losing streak Tuesday when Kyle Okposo scored the tying goal with 1:37 left in regulation and the game-winner in the fourth round of the shootout in a 3-2 victory over San Jose.
Thomas Vanek added his second goal in as many games and his sixth in 16 with the Islanders, who had lost 10 straight in regulation on the road as well as 10 in a row overall.
It was the franchise’s longest road losing streak since its inaugural 1972-73 season and worst overall skid since a team-record 14 straight Oct. 23-Nov. 24, 2010.
“This is a very good feeling,” said captain John Tavares, who assisted on both goals. “It gives us some confidence, but at the same time we can’t relax.”
Tavares, who leads the Islanders with 12 goals and 36 points, scored twice in a 6-1 victory over Phoenix on Oct. 8. Smith allowed five goals on 20 shots before getting pulled in favor of Greiss.
New York’s Kevin Poulin, who has never faced the Coyotes, snapped a seven-start losing streak with a season-high 46 saves Tuesday.
The Islanders haven’t given their goalies much support, averaging 1.6 goals during this 1-8-2 stretch. They’ve totaled 26 goals in 11 all-time visits to Phoenix, winning just twice.