Wild at Sabres preview
The Minnesota Wild have one win this month and are at the bottom of their division. Things are even worse for the Buffalo Sabres, who have yet to win in 2015 and also are looking up at the rest of the teams in their division.
The weight of expectations, however, weighs far more heavily on one team.
Minnesota could have a new face in net as it tries to end a six-game losing streak Thursday night against a Sabres team mired in an eight-game skid.
Big things were expected from the Wild (18-19-5) after they finished the 2013-14 regular season strong and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. After giving huge contracts to forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter in 2012, the Wild dipped into the free-agent market again last summer and signed 10-time 20-goal scorer Thomas Vanek to a three-year, $19.5 million deal.
Those moves had many pegging Minnesota to be a legitimate contender, but the team isn’t even in the playoff picture, sitting 12th in the Western Conference.
Perhaps the Wild’s biggest problem has been in net where Darcy Kuemper, Niklas Backstrom and John Curry have combined for an .889 save percentage to rank 29th in the league.
Backstrom started Tuesday in a 7-2 loss at Pittsburgh and Curry took over midway through the third period. Kuemper is out with a lower-body injury.
The Wild added another name to the mix Wednesday when they acquired Devan Dubnyk from Arizona for a third-round draft pick. Dubnyk was 9-5-2 with a 2.72 goals-against average in 19 games this season for the Coyotes.
Tuesday’s loss was the 12th in 14 games for Minnesota, which held a lengthy players-only meeting after the contest.
"We’re so easy to play against," Parise said. "We lose battles. The details of our game are terrible. We don’t make it hard on the other team."
The offense also has to shoulder some blame, averaging 2.29 goals during the 2-8-4 stretch. Forward Nino Neiderreiter is tied for second on the Wild with 14 goals but has gone 13 games without one, while Vanek has been a big disappointment with seven goals.
"Unfortunately, this is Minnesota Wild hockey right now and we have to get it back to where it was," coach Mike Yeo told the team’s official website. "It’s about our play. Talent is one thing, but we’ve got to play together and we’ve got to play with purpose in every little detail in our game."
Yeo will not have Suter available Thursday after he was suspended two games for elbowing Pittsburgh’s Steve Downie. That leaves Minnesota’s blueline thin after defensemen Marco Scandella and Justin Falk were placed on injured reserve Wednesday.
While the Wild were expected to at least be a playoff team, most predicted the Sabres (14-27-3) would again be among the NHL’s worst clubs after they finished with a league-low 52 points last season.
Buffalo had a brief resurgence with a 10-3-0 stretch, but has since been outscored 55-20 while losing 12 of 13. The Sabres suffered their eighth consecutive loss – all in regulation – 3-1 to Detroit on Tuesday and remained winless since a 4-3 shootout victory over the New York Islanders on Dec. 27.
Their last regulation win was over a month ago, 4-3 against visiting Calgary on Dec. 11.
Minnesota’s offensive woes pale in comparison to Buffalo, which has scored nine times during the eight-game skid and averages a league-worst 1.73 goals.
"We’re just not generating enough offensive chances and enough shots," defenseman Mike Weber told the team’s official website.
The Sabres haven’t dropped nine in a row since a 10-game slide Dec. 26, 2007-Jan. 16, 2008.
Minnesota got a hat trick from Niederreiter in a 6-3 win over Buffalo on Nov. 13, its third straight victory in the series.