Although they are among the best teams in the Western Conference, the Phoenix Coyotes still may not have everyone convinced they are a legitimate playoff contender. A strong showing on a challenging six-game homestand could sway some non-believers.
The Coyotes look to avoid their first back-to-back losses in six weeks Saturday night when they face the New York Islanders for the only time this season.
Picked by most to finish near the bottom of the conference and out of the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season, Phoenix (26-15-4) instead has been one of the league’s biggest surprises. The Coyotes are fourth in the West and have a shot at breaking the franchise record for points (96), set by the 1984-85 Winnipeg Jets.
Strong first halves, however, are not uncommon for Phoenix, which was in a playoff spot last season with a 24-19-5 record after 48 games under Wayne Gretzky before a season-closing 12-20-2 skid left the team tied for 13th in the conference.
After facing the last-place Islanders (18-19-8), coach Dave Tippett’s club hosts San Jose and New Jersey - two of the league’s top teams - before closing the homestand against Minnesota, Buffalo and Nashville.
“A very important stretch for us,” Tippett told the Coyotes’ official Web site. “The second half every single point is imperative, not that the first half wasn’t, but the first half sets up the second. If you’re not willing to pay the price in the second half, you’re going to get behind in a hurry.”
Phoenix followed a 5-4 victory at Edmonton on Tuesday with a 4-0 loss at Vancouver on Thursday for its third defeat in four games.
The Coyotes are 2-2-2 in their last six games overall, and will try to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time since Nov. 23 and 25. Phoenix is 0-1-1 in two home games following a franchise-record 10-game win streak there.
This will be the final stop on a three-game trip for the Islanders, who beat Colorado 3-2 on Wednesday before falling 4-3 to Dallas on Friday. The loss was just New York’s second in regulation in the past eight games (5-2-1).
With Rick DiPietro(notes) making 24 saves against the Stars in his first game in more than a year, coach Scott Gordon has the option of starting either Dwayne Roloson(notes) or Martin Biron(notes) on Saturday. Roloson is the likely choice considering he is 5-0-1 with a 2.06 GAA in his last six starts, and 6-1-0 with a 2.44 GAA in his past seven against Phoenix.
The Islanders are 1-6-0 with two ties all-time at Phoenix.