By Dave Vest
GLENDALE -- The Coyotes begin a season-long six-game homestand tonight with a game against the New York Islanders at Jobing.com Arena. The puck drops at 6 p.m. (Arizona time).
Phoenix (26-15-4) enters the game ranked fourth in the Western Conference standings with 56 points. That’s the good news. The bad news is ninth-place Detroit is just six points behind the Coyotes.
Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, whom the NHL named its Second Star of the Month for December, will make his fifth consecutive start tonight. In the three games he has played in January, Bryzgalov is 1-2-0 and has given up 11 goals.
The Coyotes again will play without leading goal scorer Scottie Upshall. That means others must step up, especially on power plays where the Coyotes rank 24th out of 30 NHL teams with a 16.4 efficiency rating.
Head Coach Dave Tippett likes to say his team “scores by committee.” The stats back up his claim. Phoenix is one of just a handful of NHL teams with at least eight players with 20 or more points on the season.
The Islanders (18-19-8) played on Friday night at Dallas and lost 4-3 in goalie Rick DiPietro’s long-awaited return from a knee injury. Look for Dwayne Roloson (16-7-6, 2.76 goals-against average) to start tonight. Roloson has won five of his last six starts.
Despite Friday’s loss, New York is 4-2-1 since Christmas and is hanging around the Eastern Conference playoff race just three points behind eighth-place Montreal.
Despite failing to notch a point in the past seven games, Islanders forward John Tavares, the first overall pick in last year’s NHL Entry Draft, still leads all rookies with 28 points.
Coyotes forward Lauri Korpikoski knows the Islanders well from his days with the New York Rangers.
“They have a young team and their coach really likes for them to be aggressive on the forecheck and finish their checks so it’s going to be a hard game because they play extremely hard,” Korpikoski said. “We can’t be fooled by their lineup because it doesn’t have a lot of big names in it. Those guys work as hard as anybody and we’ve got to match that.”
Coyotes captain Shane Doan has notched five goals and four assists in his past 10 games. On Tuesday, he scored two goals to key a 5-4 overtime victory over Edmonton.
Islanders center Josh Bailey, the ninth overall pick of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, has notched at least one point in each of his past five games. In that stretch he has three goals and four assists.
Tonight's game is the first of six consecutive home games for Phoenix, which has a 16-6-1 record at Jobing.com Arena so far this season. After the homestand ends, the Coyotes will play 19 of their final 31 games of the regular season on the road.
Coyotes forward Scottie Upshall, who is nursing an upper-body injury he suffered a week ago vs. Detroit, has started skating. He is considered day-to-day and may be activated from the injured reserve list early in this six-game homestand.
The Coyotes enter the game with a 5-4-0 record vs. teams from the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Islanders are 3-5-0 vs. teams from the Western Conference.
"We've just really got to play our game (to be successful). As cliche as that sounds, it's as true as can be."