The Phoenix Coyotes were a mediocre team in Wayne Gretzky's first season as coach. Poor performances and several key injuries have them a long way from mediocrity this year.
Phoenix hopes to start making its way out of the Western Conference cellar when it faces the Minnesota Wild for the first time this season on Tuesday.
A young Coyotes team surprised last season by going 38-39-5 and finishing 12th in the Western Conference in Gretzky's first season behind the bench.
In an effort to get the team into the playoffs for the first time since 2001-02, Phoenix (4-12-0) added veterans Jeremy Roenick, Owen Nolan, Ed Jovanovski and Georges Laraque in the offseason. Few of those moves, however, have paid dividends in the season's first six weeks and the Coyotes are last in the conference with eight points.
Roenick has one goal in 16 games, Nolan has three and Laraque, known more for his fists than his offensive ability, has three points in 15 contests. Starting goalie Curtis Joseph has struggled with a 2-8-0 record and lofty 3.86 goals-against average.
Despite outshooting San Jose 39-18, the Coyotes fell 2-1 to the visiting Sharks on Saturday.
"If we were 9-4 instead of 4-11, you might say, 'Oh well, we played well. Let's get ready for our next game,"' Gretzky said. "We can't afford to give any points away. Our effort was strong, but that's not good enough."
Missing from the Coyotes' lineup were captain Shane Doan, forwards Mike Comrie and Steven Reinprecht, and defenseman Nick Boynton. Doan will miss at least two weeks with a back injury, a broken foot will sideline Comrie until around Thanksgiving, and Reinprecht is out until the All-Star break with a broken collarbone.
"We had 85 goals and 180 points in the press box between those three guys," general manager Mike Barnett told the Arizona Republic. "That's about two points per game."
Boynton could return Tuesday after missing Saturday's game with a bruised foot, but center Dave Scatchard left early in the third period with a leg injury and is listed as day-to-day.
"The good news was that he walked out on his own. He played most of the second period with it, but then had to shut it down," Barnett said. "Hopefully, it's not too serious."
With all the injuries, more pressure is on left wing Ladislav Nagy to produce, but he has one goal in 15 games after scoring twice in the season opener. Comrie tops Phoenix with 11 points, the lowest total of any team leader.
Minnesota (11-5-0) dropped to 1-2-0 on its five-game road trip with a 3-2 loss to Anaheim on Sunday in a matchup of division leaders.
The Wild, who did not have a power-play opportunity in the defeat, have lost two of three meetings this season with the Ducks, owners of the best record in the West at 13-1-4.
"I think we've played that team very tough this year. I think we're right there with them, every game we've played against them," Minnesota forward Brian Rolston said.
Sunday marked the first NHL start for 28-year-old rookie Niklas Backstrom, who recently had become the first goalie in the modern era to post two career victories without making a start.
Since winning their first three games without injured star left wing Marian Gaborik, the Wild have lost four of six. Gaborik isn't expected back until mid-December at the earliest because of a groin strain.
Phoenix has lost two straight to Minnesota following a five-game unbeaten streak in the series.