It's amazing what one win can do for a team like the New York Islanders. Coming off just their sixth win of the season, the Isles gave the Phoenix Coyotes everything they could handle on Saturday night, before the Yotes prevailed in a shootout.
Phoenix's win gives them their first win on the road trip, and it only took three tries. While the wins have been few in recent games, wins against struggling teams are even fewer in the past couple weeks, with their noted losses to teams like the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils.
That made Saturday night's game almost into a must-win. Even the last place Edmonton Oilers had 29 points in the Western Conference, just to show how tightly contested the entire conference is. While every game isn't necessarily a must-win in December, games against teams like the Isles are.
The Coyotes came out flat in the first, despite holding the lead on Radim Vrbata's seventh goal of the season. Phoenix was outshot 19-8 in the period and allowed 44 shots in the game. There were no shortage of penalties in the contest, for either team. Phoenix went to the sin bin nine times in the game, including five in the first, while New York went eight times as well. Paul Bissonnette spent more time in the box (five minutes) than he did on the ice (two minutes and thirteen seconds) after his scrum with Trevor Gillies two minutes and thirteen seconds into the game.
Despite holding the edge in shots for the second period, the Isles scored the second frame's only two goals. Jesse Joensuu tied it up midway through the period, before Michael Grabner gave the Isles a controversial 2-1 edge. Phoenix thought Grabner had kicked it in initially, but the review showed that it was deflected, with no kicking motion.
Wojtek Wolski notched his fifth goal on the season, on Shane Doan's second assist of the night, to tie it early in the third. Just two minutes later, the Islanders took the lead back, a lead which would stand until Martin Hanzal tied the game with just a minute and a half left in regulation on a rebound that left the net nearly wide open.
Unlike their contest against New York's other team, the Rangers, the Coyotes managed to get a few shots off in overtime, but failed to test New York goaltender Nathan Lawson, who was making his NHL debut. Five minutes later and the teams were in a shootout, the second straight for the Yotes.
Both Doan and Vrbata scored in their attempts in the shootout, with the Islanders splitting their first two attempts. All Kyle Turris had to do was score for the win, and score he did. Using his skate on the deke, Turris slipped it past a confused Lawson, sending both he and the Islanders home as frustrated losers.
The win becomes even more important, given that their next game will be among their most difficult on the road trip. A tilt with Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins awaits Phoenix, a game which they should have no trouble getting revved up for.
After back-to-back disappointing performances to open their six game road swing, the Phoenix Coyotes will look to get things back on track in a contest with, arguably, the league's worst club in the New York Islanders.
The Coyotes come in having lost three of their last four, including the first two to kick off this road trip. The first was an all-around disappointment against a New Jersey Devils squad that was only looking down at these Islanders. Thursday's loss saw the Coyotes blow a two-goal lead and fall in a shootout to the New York Rangers.
The Isles come in sporting a league-worst 17 points on the season, three behind the Devils for 14th in the Eastern Conference. As Phoenix's luck would have it, New York comes in with just a bit more confidence, coming in off of a rare win. Four of the Islanders' six wins have come in their own barn.
Phoenix enters Saturday's contest two points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, tied with the Los Angeles Kings with 35 points. After a scorching November, the Coyotes have won just four of their last 10, and have really struggled against bad teams like the Isles. Recent games include losses to teams like New Jersey and the Minnesota Wild, as well as the Nashville Predators, who were struggling before blanking the Yotes.
Jason LaBarbera is expected to take his place between the pipes for the second consecutive game for Phoenix on Saturday. Ilya Bryzgalov is listed as questionable with an illness, after missing Thursday's game with the flu. LaBarbera will start regardless, but the Coyotes recalled Rich Climie from San Antonio to dress in the event that Bryz cannot.
A late Rangers surge prevented LaBarbera from claiming his third consecutive win. He beat the Chicago Blackhawks, as well as the Wild, both on the road. He made key saves on Thursday, while allowing just one goal in the shootout, but his teammates failed to pick him up.
With how tight the Western Conference is, every point starts to count for the Phoenix Coyotes. Teams like the Islanders are games that are a necessity to win more than anything, strictly due to the fact that they are a poor team. Saturday's contest in Long Island should give an idea of whether or not the Coyotes are ready to flash that killer instinct, or continue to allow struggling teams to sting them.