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At the Rink: Coyotes at Islanders

by John Kreiser

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Chad Johnson's improved performance is earning him more playing time.

The New York Islanders backup goaltender will start for the second time in three games when the Arizona Coyotes make their final visit to Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday.

It's Johnson's fourth start in 11 games; for comparison, he made a total of four starts in December and January combined, with Jaroslav Halak backstopping the Islanders to first place in the Metropolitan Division and tying a franchise record with 32 victories.

"He's played well his last few games," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "He deserves the opportunity."

Johnson's full-season numbers (7-7-1, 3.08 goals-against average, .885 save percentage) aren't impressive. But in his three starts this month, he's 1-1-1 and has allowed five goals on 101 shots. That includes a 25-save effort Saturday in a 3-2 shootout loss at the Washington Capitals. He backed up Halak on Sunday, when the Islanders lost 4-0 to the Vancouver Canucks.

"If you play well, you're going to play," Capuano said. "Chad's been playing well and he deserves that opportunity as we move forward so we can analyze our hockey club."

Johnson, who signed a two-year contract with the Islanders last summer after backing up Tuukka Rask in Boston last season, struggled for much of the season but feels the increased workload has helped his play.

"The more you play, the more comfortable you get," Johnson said. "Getting starts closer together helps me feel more in the game. You have to be ready, and in my position I have to be sharp, regardless. But it does help playing closer together."

Defenseman Travis Hamonic said the Islanders have no worries playing in front of Johnson.

"He's played really well as of late," Hamonic said. "I know he's going to be excited. We're confident in his game. He's a big guy in net, he's vocal and we're confident in front of him."

The Coyotes come to the Coliseum with six consecutive losses, including 3-0 to the New Jersey Devils on Monday in the opener of their four-game road trip. Arizona had 38 shots on Devils goaltender Cory Schneider but was shut out for the eighth time this season and held to two or fewer goals for the ninth game in a row.

"There were a lot of things we did well in that game," coach Dave Tippett said. "Our forecheck was good. There were parts of our game that we really liked. The tough part is that we didn't score."

Tippett will stick with Mike Smith in goal. Smith made 25 saves in the loss at New Jersey.

"I thought he played well last night," Tippett said. "He'd probably like to have the first [goal] back, but the second one was a breakaway and he made some good saves to give us a chance."

Dylan Reese, a former Islander, will make his debut for the Coyotes on defense.

"He's right-handed, and with [Zbynek] Michalek out, we've been going with a lefty there," Tippett said. "He's a solid player. We're looking for a player to come in and help us move the puck. He's an in-betweener; he's not real physical, but he can move the puck well."

Despite the Coyotes' struggles, Capuano said the Islanders can't afford to take them lightly.

"It doesn't matter what their record is or how they've been struggling," Capuano said. "We have to be prepared to raise our intensity level tonight and be ready to go."

The Islanders announced after the morning skate that defenseman Nick Leddy, who would have become a restricted free agent this summer, has agreed to a seven-year contract. Leddy, acquired just before the start of the season from the Chicago Blackhawks, has a career-best eight goals and 25 points in 61 games.

Here are the projected lineups:


Lucas Lessio - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan

Tobias Rieder - Mark Arcobello - Sam Gagner

Lauri Korpikoski - Kyle Chipchura - Martin Erat

Jordan Martinook - Joe Vitale - David Moss

Oliver Ekman-LarssonMichael Stone

Keith YandleAndrew Campbell

Brandon GormleyDylan Reese

Mike Smith

Mike McKenna

Scratched: B.J. Crombeen, Connor Murphy

Injured: Mikkel Boedker (upper body), Martin Hanzal (upper body), Zbynek Michalek (upper body)


Anders Lee - John Tavares - Josh Bailey

Michael Grabner - Frans Nielsen - Ryan Strome

Nikolay Kulemin - Brock Nelson - Cal Clutterbuck

Matt Martin - Kael Mouillierat - Colin McDonald

Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk

Lubomir Visnovsky - Thomas Hickey

Calvin de Haan - Travis Hamonic

Chad Johnson

Jaroslav Halak

Scratched: Matt Donovan, Brian Strait

Injured: Mikhail Grabovski (upper body), Casey Cizikas (lower body), Kyle Okposo (upper body), Eric Boulton (lower body)

Status report: Tippett said Reese would play but that he was still deciding who would sit. He noted that Reese had played with Gormley and Campbell with the Coyotes' American Hockey League affiliate, the Portland Pirates. … Nielsen, who left the loss to Vancouver with a leg injury but returned, took the morning skate and said he'll be able to play.

Who's hot: Tavares has six goals and 14 points in 12 games this month. Boychuk has career highs in goals (6), assists (22) and points (28).

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