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Islanders wrap up western swing vs. Coyotes

by Matthew Mankiewich

ISLANDERS (9-18-5) at COYOTES (17-8-5)


Last 10: New York 1-7-2, Phoenix 4-4-2

Season series: It seems like a long time ago considering how things have gone for them since, but the New York Islanders won the opener of this home-and-home against the Phoenix Coyotes convincingly, 6-1 at Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 8. Three Islanders (Josh Bailey, Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen) had three-point games that night. John Tavares had two goals.

Big story: The Islanders finally won one. It was a good one too, coming back from 2-0 down after two periods to pull out a 3-2 shootout win against a San Jose Sharks team that was 16-1-1 when leading after two. They get Evgeni Nabokov back Thursday, though he won't start. The Coyotes return home fresh off a 2-1-1 road trip capped off by a healthy 3-1 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.

Team Scope:

Islanders: The win Tuesday at SAP Center was somewhat reminiscent of last season's drive to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, rallying from two goals down and getting tremendous goaltending from Kevin Poulin (46 saves) they've lacked all season.

Change is coming too; 2011 first-round draft pick (No. 5) Ryan Strome has been promoted from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League and could offer some punch to one of the Isles' secondary lines, though he won't play Thursday. Strome leads the AHL with 33 points (nine goals, 24 assists) in 23 games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Coach Jack Capuano, however, announced Thursday that Strome would be held out of the lineup.

"It was a great phone call to get and I will remember it forever," Strome told the team website Wednesday. "At the same time there is a lot of work to be done, and I don't want to just come up for a cup of coffee. I want to show that I belong, help the team win and prove my spot in the line-up. I want to show them that I'm ready to come up and they made the right choice."

Coyotes: Even though goalies Mike Smith and Thomas Greiss have solid records against the Avalanche, it was still important that the Coyotes remained on top of their game against their division rivals. With Smith feeling ill Tuesday morning, Greiss had to slot in on short notice and he was up to the task, stopping 30 shots in the 3-1 win against the Avalanche.

"He's earned the trust of his teammates, and yesterday morning when we found out (Smith) wasn't going to be able to play, nobody missed a beat," coach Dave Tippett told the team website Wednesday. "That speaks volumes right there, that he jumps in and he played as well as he did."

Who's hot: Tavares has picked up the pace again, with four points in his past two games after being held without a point in the previous two. Kyle Okposo had a goal and an assist Tuesday, while Thomas Vanek scored in his second straight game. … Coyotes forward Antoine Vermette had two goals Tuesday and extended his point streak to four games. Center Mike Ribeiro has points in four of his past five.

Injury report: Nabokov and defenseman Brian Strait (upper body) were both activated by the Islanders, but defenseman Radek Martinek (back spasms) was placed on injured reserve Friday and defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) remains out with no timetable for a return. … Smith practiced Wednesday and will make the start Thursday. Captain Shane Doan (illness) hasn't played since Dec. 4 and is out indefinitely. Defenseman Derek Morris remains questionable while he deals with a personal matter that caused him to miss the game on Tuesday. Lauri Korpikoski (upper body) remains out indefinitely.

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