A punchless offense has been the biggest problem facing the New York Islanders this season. Lately, though, defense and goaltending have also become concerns.
The struggling Islanders seek only their second win in seven games Thursday night when they host the Phoenix Coyotes for the first time in more than five years.
Although they remain the league’s lowest-scoring team with 66 goals in 29 games, the Islanders (14-13-2) have scored three in three of their last four contests after being held to two or fewer in 12 of the previous 13 games.
During the offensive slump, goaltender Rick DiPietro has been New York’s best player. DiPietro, though, wasn’t sharp in a 5-3 loss Wednesday at Buffalo, stopping 36 of 41 shots in his fifth straight start.
He has allowed three goals or more in four of his last six starts, going 1-4-1 with a 3.13 goals-against average in that span.
With games on back-to-back nights, Islanders coach Ted Nolan could give backup Wade Dubielewicz a rare start. Dubielewicz, though, has allowed 12 goals in his only two starts this season.
A 1-5-1 skid has dropped the Islanders to the bottom of the Atlantic Division. They have gone nine straight games without a regulation victory, with their last two wins coming in a shootout and overtime.
“I’ve given guys plenty of opportunities, but patience can only go so long,” Nolan said. “We’re in a business. You have to produce and you have to play hard.”
One of the few Islanders that has produced lately is Mike Sillinger, who has three goals and one assist in his last four games. Sillinger—who played for Phoenix in 2003-04 among the 12 NHL teams he’s suited up for in his career—has seven goals in his last nine games against the Coyotes.
Left wing Ruslan Fedotenko missed his second straight game because of a shoulder injury, but could return Thursday. Fedotenko, though, has no goals and only two assists in his last 10 games.
Like the Isles, Phoenix also has had trouble scoring this season. The Coyotes are last in the Western Conference with 68 goals in 28 games, but have scored four or more in five of their last 10 games.
Phoenix opened a six-game road trip Saturday with a 4-2 victory over Los Angeles. Defenseman Keith Ballard scored the go-ahead goal with 7:16 remaining, and Ilya Bryzgalov made 22 saves, leading the Coyotes (13-15-0) to their second win in seven contests.
Right wing Radim Vrbata also scored Saturday, giving him six goals and three assists in his last seven games.
After rotating between Alex Auld and Mikael Tellqvist with little success early in the season, the Coyotes have found their top goaltender in Bryzgalov, who has started 11 straight games. Bryzgalov, who has never faced the Islanders, is 6-5-0 with one shutout and a 2.26 GAA with Phoenix.
The Coyotes are 7-1-0 with three ties in their last 11 meetings with the Islanders. Phoenix, which will play at Nassau Coliseum for the first time since Oct. 29, 2002, has two wins and two ties in its last four visits to Long Island.