GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP)A January funk sent the Arizona Coyotes tumbling from the top of the Pacific Division to fighting for a playoff spot.
By getting back to their defensive roots, the Coyotes put together their first winning streak in more than a month – against two of the NHL’s best road teams, no less.
Next step: sustain the momentum.
Antti Raanta stopped 25 shots, Conor Garland scored his team-leading 20th goal and Arizona beat the New York Islanders 2-1 on Monday.
”I felt the past two games, we were comfortable with who we are,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said. ”We have to maintain that. We need to have 21 guys believe in that, not have four, five guys push the envelope someplace else. I felt we had that the past two games.”
Arizona led or was near the Pacific Division lead for the season’s first three months during the franchise’s best start in recent years. The Coyotes stumbled after the first week of January, losing eight of nine and two more in early February.
Arizona returned from a three-game Canadian road trip – with one day’s rest – and played one of its best games of the season against Washington on Saturday night.
The Coyotes followed with another impressive performance two days later.
Raanta was sharp for the second straight game after a shaky performance against Ottawa. Clayton Keller scored his first goal in nine games in the first period, and Garland became Arizona’s first 20-goal scorer of the season with a one-timer in the third.
The modest two-game winning streak is the Coyotes’ first since Dec. 31-Jan. 7 and moves them into a tie for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
”We were struggling for a little bit there – all teams struggle throughout the year – and we just wanted to put an end to it,” Garland said. ”We played the style we want in other games, too, but just didn’t get the results. It’s nice to get the results.”
The Islanders got off to a shaky start on their four-game Western Conference trip, getting shut out by Nashville and Vegas after scoring 10 combined goals the previous two games.
New York failed on numerous good chances against the Coyotes before Anthony Beauviller scored the Islanders’ first goal in 166 minutes in the third period. Semyon Varlamov stopped 30 shots.
”I think we hit four posts, had a breakaway, one off the knob of his stick and one in the crease,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. ”They say it’s a game of inches. It’s a game of centimeters right now.”
The Coyotes had one of their best all-around games Saturday night, holding Alex Ovechkin at 698 career goals in a 3-1 victory over Washington.
Arizona was buzzing early against the Islanders, creating multiple chances before Keller scored in the opening five minutes. His shot from the slot caromed off New York defenseman Nick Leddy past Varlamov.
Raanta, who stopped 36 shots against the Capitals, made a series of tough saves when the Islanders turned up the pressure, particularly during a power play late in the first.
Devon Toews nearly slipped one past Raanta early in the second on a sharp-angle shot. The puck went under Raanta’s pads, off the toe of his skate and hit the post. A video review showed the puck tumble along the line, but not all the way over it.
Garland put the Coyotes up 2-0 early in the third, one-timing a nifty no-look pass from Christian Dvorak.
Raanta stopped Brock Nelson on a breakaway shortly after, but Beauvillier scored New York’s first goal of the road trip by redirecting Andy Greene’s shot past his glove side.
The Islanders tried to turn up the pressure, but Raanta made a series of tough saves down the stretch to clinch it.
”We did a lot of good things, we just didn’t put the puck in the net,” Islanders left wing Anders Lee said. ”It’s been tough for us lately to find goals. We got that one from (Beauvillier) and couldn’t get the second one. We had chances over and over and we’ve just got to find a way to put it in.”
NOTES: The Coyotes have killed off 18 straight penalties after holding New York scoreless in three attempts with the man advantage. … Greene was in the top defensive pairing with Ryan Pulock after being acquired in a trade from New Jersey on Sunday. … Dvorak has matched his career high at 37 points. … The Islanders had a seven-game points streak (5-1-2) against Arizona snapped.
The Islanders play at Colorado on Wednesday.
The Coyotes visit Dallas on Wednesday.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports