After entering the All-Star break riding a bit of a hot streak, the Phoenix Coyotes have gone cold. Their latest setback could limit them further.
The Coyotes hope to avoid a third straight loss on Saturday night, when they host the Buffalo Sabres without center Steve Reinprecht.
Phoenix (24-21-5) was shut out in back-to-back games on Jan. 4 and 6, but rebounded by scoring 23 goal while winning five of its next seven games - a stretch that helped it move into fifth place in the Western Conference heading into the break.
But the Coyotes, pursuing their first playoff berth in seven seasons, haven't been able to build off that success since returning. Tuesday night's 7-3 loss to visiting Anaheim preceded their fifth shutout of this season, 2-0 at league-leading San Jose on Thursday night.
They're in jeopardy of their first three-game losing streak since dropping a season-high six straight (0-4-2) from Nov. 15-24.
Making matters worse was the loss of Reinprecht, who is expected to miss four to eight weeks due to a shoulder injury. The veteran center, who has played all but two of the Coyotes' 50 games thus far, was hurt during his second shift and sat out the rest of Thursday's game.
"He's a consummate team player as far as his work ethic goes," coach Wayne Gretzky told the Coyotes' official Web site Friday. "Defensively, he has been sound as far as face-offs and killing penalties. It's going to be a big hole for us."
Replacing Reinprecht's offense figures to be the biggest issue for Phoenix. His 28 points are fourth on a Coyotes team that ranks near the bottom of the league with 2.6 goals per game.
The offense, led by captain Shane Doan's 20 goals and 48 points, has been held to three goals or fewer in 15 of its last 20 games.
"It puts pressure on everyone else," said Doan, who has two goals and eight assists over his last nine games.
Doan also has four goals and seven assists in his last eight matchups versus the Sabres, who are 2-6-1 against the Coyotes since Jan. 20, 2000. Doan and Peter Mueller each had a goal and an assist in a 6-2 home win over Buffalo on Jan. 21, 2008.
Mueller suffered a minor concussion in the loss to Anaheim and did not make the trip to San Jose. He is unlikely to play Saturday.
Buffalo (25-19-5) has been one of the league's hottest teams this month, winning eight of 12 games. But after posting a season high in goals in Tuesday's 10-2 win at Edmonton, the offense wasn't nearly as effective Thursday in a 5-2 loss at Calgary.
Ryan Miller allowed three third-period goals and has surrendered 12 on 107 shots in losing two of his last three starts. He posted a 1.94 goals-against average in winning seven of his first eight January games.
"I definitely have to be better, especially on the road and especially for a team that needs some points," Miller said of Buffalo, which has alternated wins and losses in the first four contests of its season-high six-game road trip.
Miller, who has never faced Phoenix, is 7-3-1 with a 3.04 GAA in his last 11 away starts.
Ilya Bryzgalov has started the last nine games for the Coyotes, going a 5-4-0 with a 3.10 GAA in that span. The netminder, who made 19 saves against the Sabres last January, is 11-4-2 with a 2.25 GAA in 19 home games this season.