After three days off, the Arizona Coyotes look to regain their footing in the playoff race when the Buffalo Sabres visit on Saturday evening.
Hovering above the playoff line in the standings as either a top-three team in the Pacific Division or one of two wild cards for much of this season, the Coyotes find themselves looking up at several teams as they try to get back into the postseason picture with 16 games left in the regular season.
At least they got some much-needed rest this week, their last game a frustrating 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on home ice Tuesday. The Coyotes have lost three of four and have watched other Western Conference teams get hot and leapfrog them into playoff position.
The Coyotes outshot the Panthers 38-26 in star goaltender Darcy Kuemper's return from more than two months out with a lower-body injury, but couldn't get two important points.
"This time of the year is the hardest time of the year to score goals," Arizona's Derek Stepan said. "You have to be on the interior, and sometimes they're not going to be pretty ones, and I just think we weren't on the inside enough."
The positive was Kuemper's return, after the Coyotes stood pat at the NHL trade deadline.
"It was great to be back out there just competing with the guys. It's been a long time watching which is not the easiest, but it felt good to be back out there," he said. "I thought they (teammates) did a good job in front of me making it as easy as possible for my first game back.
"We just unfortunately did not get the win."
A challenging road trip to Canada awaits the Coyotes after they play the Sabres, making it crucial to get two points before heading off to Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg. All three of those teams are also jockeying for the playoffs.
The Sabres had won five of six until heading west on their current road trip, and have since dropped a 3-2 game to the Colorado Avalanche and a 4-2 result to the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night.
New center Dominik Kahun, picked up in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier in the week, scored in his first shift on the ice for the Sabres against the Stars.
Buffalo, well out of the playoff race at the moment, also added veteran forward Wayne Simmonds this past week.
"I think we've talked a lot about changing our forward group, adding to our forward group," general manager Jason Botterill said, per the Buffalo News. "Excited about bringing in a veteran player such as Wayne Simmonds. We've talked a lot about this group playing meaningful games.
"For Wayne, playing meaningful games in the months of March and April is something he's very accustomed to. I think you've heard Ralph talk a lot about net-front presence, playing a physical game. I think these are things that come natural for Wayne. We also know we have a young group. He has a strong personality, and I think his leadership is going to help our group out a lot."
-Field Level Media