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Coyotes-Sabres Preview @NHLdotcom
Coyotes-Sabres Preview

GAME: Phoenix Coyotes (20-21-2) at Buffalo Sabres (27-13-2).

TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. EST.

The Phoenix Coyotes are below .500 for the first time in nearly two months and coming off one of their worst losses of the season.

The Coyotes will try to avoid a season-high fifth straight defeat as they travel to play the Buffalo Sabres.

Phoenix fell to 9-10-2 after a loss Nov. 16 to the Colorado Avalanche but rebounded to win seven of its next nine games. The Coyotes, though, are now in danger of letting their season get away.

Phoenix allowed three power-play goals for the second straight game in a 7-2 loss Tuesday to the Ottawa Senators. It was the Coyotes ninth loss in the last 13 games and dropped them a game below even.

"We knew we were in tough tonight - they're a great hockey club," Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. "They've got tremendous skill so we knew we were in for a game against one of the better teams in this league, but obviously we're disappointed in the result."

Phoenix was outshot 39-23 and tied season highs in goals allowed and margin of defeat

Zbynek Michalek and Jamie Lundmark both scored for the Coyotes, who have been outscored 21-6 in their four-game slide.

The Buffalo Sabres also have been in a recent slump, losing two of their last three after a 3-2 defeat Saturday to the New Jersey Devils. Maxim Afinogenov and rookie Thomas Vanek scored for the Sabres who, despite the loss, are 19-4-2 in their last 25 games.

Forward Chris Drury (groin strain) and defenseman Toni Lydman (flu) both missed the game, but are expected to play against Phoenix.

"We lost a couple of key personnel," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, whose team is playing its fifth game of a season-high six-game homestand. "We dumped some more ice time on some guy's plates, and those guys didn't respond."

The Sabres have been fighting injuries all season and continue to be without Daniel Briere and J.P. Dumont, two of their offensive leaders, who are recovering from surgery to repair abdominal injuries.

Rookie center Paul Gaustad is also expected to be sidelined Thursday after suffering a head injury in Saturday's game. Center Jiri Novotny was called up from Rochester of the AHL Wednesday and will likely make his NHL debut against the Coyotes.

Phoenix has a four-game winnin streak in Buffalo.

STANDINGS: Coyotes - 42 points, 5th place, 16 PB, Pacific Division. Sabres - 56 points, 2nd place, 5 PB, Northeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Coyotes - Ladislav Nagy and Mike Comrie, 14 goals; Nagy, 33 assists and 47 points; Sean O'Donnell, 102 PIM. Sabres - Ales Kotalik, 17 goals; Tim Connolly, 25 assists and 33 points; Afinogenov, 44 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Coyotes - Power play: 18.2 percent (52 for 285), 11th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.5 percent (213 for 268), 27th. Sabres - Power play: 22.1 percent (54 for 244), 2nd. Penalty killing: 85.0 percent (187 for 220), 5th.

GOALTENDERS: Coyotes - Curtis Joseph (16-12-0, 2 SO, 2.68 GAA); Brian Boucher (2-4-0, 4.27). Sabres - Ryan Miller (11-6-0, 2.33); Martin Biron (15-5-2, 3.07).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Dec. 4, 2003; Coyotes, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 4, 2003; Coyotes, 3-2. At Buffalo, N.Y., Branko Radivojevic tallied a goal and an assist for the Coyotes while Chris Gratton and David Tanabe each added a goal.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Coyotes - 9-12-1 on the road; Sabres - 14-7-1 at home.

Associated Press

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