Season Series: This is the third of four meetings, with the final to be played on April 7. The teams split two early-season encounters, but the Coyotes are 7-3-0 over their last 10 meetings. Phoenix won the most recent meeting on Dec. 31, 4-2, behind two goals from Radim Vrbata.
Big Story: After surging into the Pacific lead with an 11-0-1 month of February, the Phoenix Coyotes have stumbled out of the gate in March, going 0-4-0 and slipping to seventh in the West. They look to turn it around when they welcome the injury-depleted Minnesota Wild, a team that has gone 0-4-1 – including three shutouts – over its last five games.
Wild: Remember all those names swirling around Minnesota's red-hot start to the season? Captain Mikko Koivu? Prolific forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse? Starting goalie Niklas Backstrom? Well, they'll all be watching Thursday's game from the sidelines, and it's unclear whether other key players, like Cal Clutterbuck and Justin Falk, will be ready for the puck drop. The Wild are 3-10-3 over their last 16 games, and entered Tuesday against the Avalanche looking to avoid their third straight shutout loss for the first time in franchise history. They did, but barely. Colorado scored the first five goals before Devin Setoguchi netted a penalty shot at 4:34 of the third period. The Avalanche went on to win, 7-1.
"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."
Coyotes: As good as Phoenix was for the month of February, the Coyotes have been just as bad in March. Four straight losses – including two to League-worst Columbus – have dropped Phoenix two points shy of Pacific-leading Dallas. In each of the four games, Phoenix fell into 2-0 holes to start. That continued Tuesday in Columbus, when the Blue Jackets scored twice within the first four minutes to chase starter Mike Smith. Jason LaBarbera saved 24 of 25 in relief, but goals from Antoine Vermette and Keith Yandle couldn't close the gap as the Jackets went on to win, 3-2.
"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."
Who's Hot: Shane Doan has 16 points in his last 16 games against Minnesota.
Injury Report: Falk (leg) and Clutterbuck (illness) are questionable for Thursday's game, while Backstrom (lower body) is out another 2-4 weeks. Koivu (shoulder), Bouchard (concussion/groin), Latendresse (post-concussion symptoms), Mike Lundin (lower body), Clayton Stoner (lower body) and Jarod Palmer (upper body) are all on injured reserve.
Stat Pack: This is the rare matchup featuring two teams who pulled starting goalies in their last outing. Like Smith, Minnesota goalie Matt Hackett was replaced by Josh Harding after allowing four goals in 35:32. None of the four goalies have had much success against their opponent, but Harding did make 26 saves for a 4-1 win in his only meeting against the Coyotes on Jan. 13, 2008.
Puck Drop: After Tuesday's game, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett spoke about his team's mentality going forward.
"We talked about a few things not going our way right now," 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."