Wild-Coyotes Preview


After a remarkable effort last month, the Phoenix Coyotes have had a hard time getting things going in March.

A matchup with the injury-plagued Minnesota Wild could be just what they need to get back on track.

Hoping to avoid a fifth consecutive regulation loss for the first time in more than three years, Phoenix looks to add to the visiting Wild's recent woes Thursday night.

Phoenix (33-25-9) proved next to unbeatable during an 11-0-1 run in February but has failed to carry over any momentum into March, dropping to 0-4-0 this month with Tuesday's 3-2 loss at Columbus. The Coyotes are in seventh place in the Western Conference but trail Pacific Division-leading Dallas by two points.

"We talked about a few things not going our way right now," coach Dave Tippett said. "We have to keep our head above water. We've got to get back at it and find a way to get a win."

A visit from Minnesota (28-29-10) could help the Coyotes do just that. The Wild are 3-10-3 over their last 16 games and enter Thursday in the midst of an 0-4-1 skid.

Minnesota, which has been blanked three times and outscored 23-5 during its slide, saw its offensive struggles continue in Tuesday's 7-1 loss at Colorado. The Wild trailed 5-0 before Devin Setoguchi's penalty shot helped them avoid a third consecutive shutout for the first time in franchise history.

With captain Mikko Koivu, fellow forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse and goalie Niklas Backstrom already sidelined, Minnesota was also without forward Cal Clutterbuck and defenseman Justin Falk. It's unknown if either Clutterbuck or Falk will be available Thursday.

"I can assure you that these guys care," coach Mike Yeo said. "These guys are hurting right now. It's real hard for guys emotionally to come to the rink and get your mind straight with what we're going through right now. If you want to get excited about something, I can guarantee this is a group that will keep on fighting."

After scoring the first four goals in a 4-1 win at Jobing.com Arena on Dec. 10, the Wild dropped to 3-7-0 over their last 10 meetings against Phoenix with a 4-2 home loss Dec. 31.

While the Coyotes have controlled this series of late, they've trailed at least 2-0 in each game during their current losing streak. Phoenix hasn't gone 0-5-0 since a six-game slide Jan. 27-Feb. 7, 2009.

"The last three or four games it's been awful," said captain Shane Doan, who has 16 points over his last 16 meetings in this series. "That's gone on before but we managed ways to overcome it. The last three, four games, it's been dreadful."

Mike Smith allowed two goals in under four minutes Tuesday before getting pulled. Jason LaBarbera went on to stop 24 shots in dropping to 0-5-2 over his last eight games.

Smith, who surrendered all four goals Dec. 10 against the Wild, is 2-4-1 lifetime versus them despite posting a 1.94 goals-against average and two shutouts.

With Backstrom sidelined, rookie Matt Hackett started for Minnesota on Tuesday but was replaced by Josh Harding after allowing four goals. Harding didn't fare much better, stopping 15 of 18 shots.

In his only meeting with the Coyotes, Harding made 26 saves during a 4-1 home win Jan. 13, 2008.