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At the Rink: Islanders at Coyotes

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The New York Islanders and Arizona Coyotes each feel really good about themselves, and each are coming off successful trips to Southern California. But only one will have the benefit of rest on their side when they collide in the desert Saturday.

The Islanders were in Arizona watching Friday when the Coyotes rallied from a 2-0 deficit for a 3-2 shootout win against the Anaheim Ducks behind goalie Mike Smith's 37 saves, many of highlight quality, and two more in the shootout to shut down the Ducks over the final 56 minutes.

Smith will be back in the net against New York. He is 4-1-0 record with a 2.36 goals-against average, one shutout and a .924 save percentage in five career games against the Islanders. But it's how he's playing right now, with a 2.21 GAA in his past four starts, with back-to-back wins for the first time this season, that has coach Dave Tippett's interest.

"When we needed big saves he gave us big saves and that's a great sign," Tippett said after the game Friday. "That's really good for the whole psyche of the team when you see him play like that."

New York knows the feeling. After losses in Colorado and San Jose by a combined 8-1 score to start a five-game road trip, the Islanders bounced back with a 3-2 overtime win against the Ducks on Wednesday and then beat the Kings 2-1 in a shootout on Thursday.

Jaroslav Halak got the win against the Ducks and will be back in the net after former Coyote Chad Johnson beat the Kings on Thursday.

Saturday will be a milestone night for defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who will play in his 500th game with the Coyotes. In his second stint with Arizona, Michalek has been back with partner Oliver Ekman-Larsson for the three-game winning streak. And the early season defensive struggles with the pair have been cleaned up.

"It's going to be a special game for me," said Michalek, who left the Coyotes as a free agent in the summer of 2010 but was happy to be traded back two years later. "I'm not a big stats guy, but playing 500 games with one franchise means a lot. I'm glad I'm here. This is the team I wanted to play for and these are the guys I want to be with.

"The atmosphere around the team and the rink, it's like one big family. We are all good friends, we enjoy hanging out together. The management and training staff are quality people and everyone in Arizona couldn't have been nicer. It's a great place for us to raise our kids and we're so happy to be here."

It's a big night for Tippett as well. He will tie Bob Francis for the most games coached in franchise history (390) and a win would give him 200 victories with the Coyotes. He is 199-132-58 since his arrival in 2009.

Here are the projected lineups:


Nikolay Kulemin - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo

Mikhail Grabovski - Frans Nielsen - Cal Clutterbuck

Anders Lee - Brock Nelson - Ryan Strome

Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Eric Boulton

Calvin de Haan - Travis Hamonic

Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk

Thomas Hickey - Lubomir Visnovsky

Jaroslav Halak

Chad Johnson

Scratched: Cory Conacher, Matt Donovan, Brian Strait

Injured: Josh Bailey (hand), Matt Carkner (back), Michael Grabner (lower body)


Tobias Rieder - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan

Rob Klinkhammer - Martin Hanzal - Martin Erat

Lauri Korpikoski - Sam Gagner - Mikkel Boedker

Brandon McMillan - Joe Vitale - B.J. Crombeen

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Zbynek Michalek

Keith Yandle - Connor Murphy

Brandon Gormley - Michael Stone

Mike Smith

Devan Dubnyk

Scratched: Kyle Chipchura, David Schlemko, Chris Summers,

Injured: David Moss (upper body)

Status report: Strait didn't take any extra work Saturday and could be an option on defense if the Islanders make a change. … Moss is skating but has not participated in team activities and will miss his eighth game of the season.

Who's hot: The Coyotes are 5-1-1 when Yandle gets at least one point this season. They are 1-5-0 when he doesn't. … The Coyotes' 3-1-0 start to November makes sense. The team is 31-19-6 in November under Tippett. … Arizona continues to excel on faceoffs and enters play Saturday third in the NHL with a 53.9-percent success rate. … The Coyotes have scored 11 goals in three games since Rieder joined the team six days ago. … The Islanders are 5-1-0 in one-goal games after beating the Ducks and Kings this week. … After getting 23 goals from their defensemen last season the Islanders have eight from defensemen in the first 13 games this season.

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