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Arizona Coyotes fall to Islanders but gain confidence in their goaltender

The Coyotes lost a defensive struggle to the New York Islanders on Saturday night.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Guess who's back, back again.
Smitty's back, tell a friend.

The Arizona Coyotes may have lost to the New York Islanders 1-0 on Saturday night, but they gained something even more important -- confidence that their starting goaltender is back in top form.

While the mood was still somber after their three-game winning streak was snapped on a late goal from Frans Nielsen, the only goal of the game, Mike Smith's fifth consecutive strong performance leaves room for plenty of optimism.

"He's been great in the last few games," Shane Doan said. "He's been the best player on the ice -- and the reason why we won three in a row is because of our goaltending. When you have the better goalie every night, you usually win.

"Tonight we did and we did not find a way to take advantage of that and that is disappointing."

Smith has posted save percentages of .923, .914, .933, .949 and .970 over the last five games -- a stark contrast from his putrid start to the season that had him near the bottom of every major goaltending statistic.

The 32-year-old goaltender's game has improved, but so has the defense in front of him.

"The things that were kind of haunting us earlier in the year...I feel like we are doing a better job of coming back to the house and making it tough for the other team to get offense, but at the end of the day it's been Smitty stopping the pucks," Sam Gagner said. "He's done a great job of being calm in there and giving us confidence.

"If he keeps playing like this he's going to give us a chance to win every night so that gives us confidence."

While the recent play of their goaltender is encouraging, the Coyotes ultimately allowed a winnable game to slip away.

"Smitty played really well, we were okay, but Smitty was really good and it doesn't matter if you don't score," Doan said. "We have to find a way to score one; you have to get one in. You can play great defensively, but if you don't score it doesn't really help, so we need to find that balance and find a way to generate offense."

Scoring exactly zero goals means the Coyotes failed to generate offense in a myriad of ways, but one area that was poor in particular was Arizona's play with the man advantage.

The Coyotes went 0-for-5 on the power play, including a late 6-on-4 with their goalie pulled in an attempt to tie the game.

"I mean a lot of things were close, we are close in a lot of areas but the pucks don't bounce in the right direction and we have to find a way to generate one, and generate one to go in," Doan said. "We had a few deflections go wide; I missed the net at the end of the game. It's those things we can't afford to do to give them life."

The schedule make is to blame in part for Arizona's sluggishness offensively. The Islanders lounged in their fancy hotel last night, while the Coyotes played the Pacific Division-leading Ducks to a shootout and arrived home in the wee hours of the morning.

"That's an awful tough turn around," coach Dave Tippett said. "That team's sitting here waiting for you and we played a really hard game last night in Anaheim. We got back at 2:30 in the morning, the guys show up and they go to work and you can tell there are times when your forecheck isn't quite as crisp, the power play wasn't quite as crisp, but you try to work through that to find a way to win."

The Coyotes looked like they would at least grab a point out of Saturday's affair, but alas a Nielsen goal with 3:31 remaining in regulation was all the Islanders needed to snap Arizona's winning streak.

Arizona's record falls to 6-7-1, sixth in the Pacific Division.

Three Stars

1. Jaroslav Halak - Probably the second best goalie of the night, but a shutout is a shutout and earns the No. 1 spot.

2. Mike Smith - Stopped 32 of 33 shots, Saturday's loss was certainly not on him.

3. Frans Nielsen - Scored the only goal of the game.

Looking Ahead

The Coyotes have a few days off before taking on the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Gila River Arena.