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Coyotes start big homestand by hosting Islanders

by John Kreiser

ISLANDERS (18-19-8) at COYOTES (26-15-4)

Last 10 -- New York 5-4-1; Phoenix 5-3-2

Season series -- The Islanders' visit to the desert is the first and only meeting between the teams this season. They split one-goal decisions last season, with the Coyotes winning 5-4 at home on Jan. 2 and the Islanders hanging on for a 3-2 victory at the Nassau Coliseum on March 8.

Big story - The surprising Coyotes are entering perhaps the most important stretch of their season as they welcome the Islanders to Arizona. They're beginning a six-game homestand -- one they need to capitalize on if they are to build on perhaps the NHL's most surprising performance thus far. The Coyotes are 0-1-1 at home after winning 10 in a row, and they're catching the Isles in the second game of a back-to-back after a 4-3 loss at Dallas on Friday. The 'Yotes are home after splitting two games in Western Canada, beating Edmonton 5-4 in OT and losing 4-0 at Vancouver on Thursday.

Team Scope:

Islanders -- With Rick DiPietro's return after an absence of more than a year following knee surgery and rehab finally done, the Islanders will soon have some decisions to make about their goaltending.

Dwayne Roloson has taken the No. 1 job in DiPietro's absence. His return could make Martin Biron a tasty trade target.

Through DiPietro looked a little rusty in the loss at Dallas, coach Scott Gordon said he was very pleased with what he saw.

"I thought it was a great first game for him," Gordon said after DiPietro stopped 24 of 28 shots. "Considering where he's come from, he made some big saves when we needed them. For a first game, I'll take it."

Coyotes -- The Coyotes will have to resist the temptation to overlook last season's 30th-place team while looking ahead to their next two games -- meetings with powerhouses San Jose and New Jersey.

"A very important stretch for us," coach Dave Tippett told the Coyotes' 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."

Who's hot - Isles goaltender Dwayne Roloson is likely to get the start, considering that he is 5-0-1 with a 2.06 goals-against average in his last six starts, and 6-1-0 with a 2.44 GAA in his past seven against Phoenix.

Injury report - Isles forward Sean Bergenheim (ribs) is just about ready to return, and Tim Jackman will miss another couple of weeks with an eye injury. … The Coyotes are as healthy as an NHL team gets at this time of year.

Stat pack - Second-year forward Josh Bailey has heated up with 3 goals and 4 assists in his last five games for the Islanders. … The Islanders are 1-6 with two ties in nine trips to Phoenix and have been outscored 35-21. … Bryzgalov has allowed 11 goals in his last three starts, losing two of them. This could be a good time to start backup Jason LaBarbera, even though he is 15-4-1 with a 1.68 goals-against average at Arena this season.

Puck drop - The Coyotes are just 2-2-2 in their last six games. With the Sharks and Devils on next week's schedule, this is a game they can't afford to lose.

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