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Coyotes-Blackhawks Preview @NHL

New coach Denis Savard has the Chicago Blackhawks playing their best hockey in recent memory, and he's close to having a key player back on the ice.

The Blackhawks may have Martin Havlat back in the lineup for the first time since Oct. 20 as they host the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday.

Havlat traveled with the team to Minnesota and skated with the team in practice Tuesday, but didn't play in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Wild that night.

"When he's ready, we want him back for the rest of the year, not just for five or 10 games," Savard told the Blackhawks' official Web site, "He's really, really close, but we want him playing without any hesitation."

Making his Chicago debut Oct. 5 after being acquired in a three-team trade during the offseason, Havlat had two goals and two assists in an 8-6 win at Nashville. After six games, he had seven goals and 13 points to lead the league before suffering a sprained ankle, one of three major injuries to hit the team quickly.

One night after Havlat's injury and in a 4-3 loss to St. Louis, Michal Handzus tore an ACL that is expected to sideline him for the remainder of the season. Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin also broke a finger in that game and sat out eight games.

Despite missing the last 18 games, Havlat is still tied with Martin Lapointe for the team lead in goals.

Against the Wild, Brandon Bochenski and Bryan Smolinski scored in the first period for Chicago (10-12-3), which got 35 saves from Khabibulin. Earlier in the day, Savard's contract was extended through next season, but he failed in his bid to become the first coach in team history to start his career with four straight wins.

"You'd like to get two points in a game like this, but our overall effort was great," Savard said. "We knew they'd play well tonight."

The Blackhawks have just one win, three losses and three ties in their last seven games at the United Center against the Coyotes (10-16-0).

Phoenix is coming off its fifth shutout loss of the season - and third against Dallas - following Wednesday's 3-0 defeat to the short-handed Stars.

Coyotes goaltender Curtis Joseph didn't have to face the Stars' Mike Modano (hip flexor/groin injury), Brenden Morrow (groin), Eric Lindros (bruised foot), and Antti Miettinen (lower body), but made just 14 saves.

"It's kind of a weird game to analyze because they played the kind of game they had to play without having Modano, Morrow, guys of that caliber in the lineup," Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky said. "When you don't have those guys, you have to play smart defensively, and they're probably the best-coached team defensively in the league."

The Coyotes, who had scored 12 goals during a season-high three-game winning streak, are tied with Florida for the second-most shutout losses in the league - trailing only Columbus (6).

Yanic Perreault, who didn't join the Coyotes until signing a one-year contract Oct. 29, leads the team with eight goals in just 14 games. He scored 22 in 69 games with Nashville last season.

Perreault has 17 career goals, including a career-best eight game-winners, in 33 games versus Chicago.

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