While "when it rains, it pours" isn't a commonly heard phrase in the desert of Arizona, it's one that certainly relates to the Phoenix Coyotes. After winning six of their first eight games in 2011, the Yotes have won just one of their last five, including Wednesday night's blowout loss to the Vancouver Canucks.
They'll look to turn it around immediately, against the surging Minnesota Wild, who are tied with Phoenix at 59 points in the tight Western Conference.
The Wild come into Phoenix as road warriors of late, having won 11 of 17 on the road in December and January. They're coming off of a 4-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday.
The Coyotes haven't been able to do much in their two games back since the All Star break. True to character, they let a late lead slip away against the division rival San Jose Sharks. That paled in comparison that was the disaster of Wednesday night, in which the Coyotes lost 6-0 at home to the Canucks.
A win on Saturday night is more crucial than ever for the Coyotes, who are holding onto that last playoff spot in the Western Conference. Even worse news for Phoenix: three teams behind them have 58 points, including the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, who are beginning to look like title contender again. The rival Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames are also at 58.
If fans do see Ilya Bryzgalov in net on Saturday, they'll see a goaltender in one of the worst streaks of his career. During this recent skid, Bryz has given up 19 goals, with 17 of those coming in the four losses.
When the Coyotes hit the ice on Saturday, they are expecting to have Minnesota starter Niklas Backstrom staring back at them. Jose Theodore has been stealing time from Backstrom throughout the season, but the Finnish goaltender has given up just six goals in his last four outings, including two shutouts.
The injury report isn't pretty for the Coyotes as they head into their weekend tilt. Vernon Fiddler is still out for Phoenix, leaving a lack of energy up front. Ed Jovanovski's status for the game is also up in the air, with an upper body injury.
The lack of separation in the Western Conference has been a storyline for the NHL all season. You win, and you could jump up in the standings, but if you lose you could fall a few spots. Phoenix is certainly hoping for the former on Saturday.