If the Phoenix Coyotes fail to make the postseason for the second consecutive year, it won't take much searching to figure out where the race in the Western Conference was lost.
After putting themselves in a terrific position for the second Wild Card spot with a three-game, five-point road trip, the Coyotes sabotaged any semblance of goodwill with a four-game stretch that had a little bit of everything -- none of which was positive.
Against the Minnesota Wild, the team directly in front of them in the standings, on March 30, the Coyotes held a one-goal lead entering the third period, only to see Zach Parise and Co. score three unanswered in the third period for a 3-1 victory.
Three nights later against the visiting Winnipeg Jets, Phoenix dominated play for the final two periods but couldn't capitalize on the effort. A fluky shootout goal by Andrew Ladd proved to be the difference, as the Jets escaped by a final of 2-1.
In Los Angeles Wednesday, the Coyotes looked like a team playing on the second night of a back-to-back and not one desperate for points. A listless effort which featured a season-low 17 shots led to a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Kings.
And then there was Friday night at Jobing.com Arena. Two unanswered, hard-fought goals by Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Kyle Chipchura put Phoenix ahead 2-1 in the waning moments. But the advantage went for naught, as a late Thomas Greiss miscue led to a virtually wide open net -- one Oilers winger Sam Gagner had no problem putting the puck inside of.
In the extra session it was Gagner again who beat Greiss, this time with a nifty move to close out Edmonton's 2-1 shootout win.
Four games, four losses, four goals and not a whole lot of optimism conjured up in between.
There are plenty of internal issues Phoenix could look to as sources for its recent four-game skid, but sadly that search would also not take too long.
The main culprit: lack of production from top-line forwards.
Over the last four games, Radim Vrbata, Martin Hanzal, Martin Erat, Shane Doan, Antoine Vermette, Mike Ribeiro and Mikkel Boedker have relatively non-existent.
Collectively, the group has combined for one goal and four assists over the last four games. And during that same stretch, both Hanzal and Ribeiro haven't even had their name anywhere near the score sheet.
"It's a struggle," Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said after Friday night's loss to the Oilers. "We're not getting many chances from these guys either. "We're not getting many chances from them and we're not getting very many power plays right now -- where they were getting their points.
"That's an issue we have to continue to address. We have to squeeze more out of those guys."
Phoenix doesn't play until Tuesday in Columbus, so before any lineup tinkering takes place it must first sit and watch how the Dallas Stars perform over the next two nights.
The Coyotes are holding on to the second Wild Card spot by just a single point, however at the moment the Dallas have two games in hand.
"You've got to look at right now that we sit in eighth place," said Tippett. "You've got Dallas playing on the weekend, so you watch those scores. That's just the way it is.
"We need to practice Sunday, though. We haven't had a practice with our schedule in a long time. We have to have a good practice. Go on the road and win some games."
It's unclear whether the team will go on the road with one of those aforementioned, underperforming forwards.
Center Martin Hanzal left Friday's contest in the third period with a lower body injury and did not return to the ice.