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Coyotes try to break out of slump in clash with Wild

The Coyotes have come up empty in terms of points so far in March. The Wild haven't had much going for them in nearly three months.

Phoenix tries to avoid a fifth straight defeat this evening as it takes on sliding Minnesota.

The Coyotes were arguably the hottest team in hockey throughout February, going 11-0-1 while ending the month on a six-game win streak. However, they have dropped their first four games in March -- all in regulation.

Phoenix's latest setback dropped it two points behind Dallas for first place in the Pacific Division. With 75 points, the Coyotes sit seventh overall in the Western Conference and only a point ahead of a trio of teams.

The Coyotes' fourth straight defeat, matching a season high first done from Dec. 23-29, came on Tuesday in Columbus, where they suffered a 3-2 setback to the Blue Jackets. Antoine Vermette, dealt to Phoenix from Columbus on Feb. 22, and Keith Yandle scored for the Coyotes.

Mike Smith got the start in net, but gave up a goal 31 seconds in and yielded a pair of tallies on just seven shots before Dave Tippett opted to go with backup Jason LabBarbera. In his first appearance since Feb. 13, LaBarbera allowed the winning goal on 25 shots faced.

"A few things aren't going our way right now," Tippett said. "We have to keep our head above water, get back at it and find a way to get a win."

The Wild have been trying to do that for months. Minnesota is 8-22-7 since it held the best record in the NHL on Dec. 10 and now sits 13th out of 15 teams in the Western Conference, eight points out of a playoff spot.

The Wild dropped their fifth game in a row on Tuesday, falling to the Avalanche 7-1 in Colorado. It wrapped a home-and-home set between the clubs, with the Avs notching a 2-0 win on Sunday in Minnesota.

Devin Setoguchi's penalty-shot goal in the third period was the only score for the Wild, who saw Matt Hackett get touched for four goals on 21 shots in the start. He was lifted in the second in favor of Josh Harding, who allowed three goals on 12 shots and has yielded 12 scores over his past three outings.

Minnesota's No. 1 netminder Niklas Backstrom is out 2-to-4 weeks with a lower- body injury, while both Cal Clutterbuck (illness) and Justin Falk (leg) sat out Tuesday's defeat.

"It's very frustrating right now," said Minnesota center Matt Cullen. "I think that we have been very disappointed and everything is very difficult right now and that's an understatement. Everyone is trying, but we're just not doing the small things we need to do."

The Wild, who have been outscored 24-5 during their losing streak, have split the first two meetings with the Coyotes this season, with each club winning once on the road. The Wild came away with a 4-1 win on Dec. 10, but the Coyotes countered with a 4-2 victory at Minnesota on Dec. 31.