Seeing the rebuilding New York Islanders in the midst of a lengthy losing streak isn't all that strange. A franchise-record six-game skid for the defending Northwest Division champion Minnesota Wild, however, is extremely surprising.
The Wild look to end their slide and take advantage of a team decimated by injuries on Friday night when they face the Islanders at Xcel Energy Center.
After winning their first division title last season and finishing with 98 points, the Wild (15-13-2) entered 2008-09 with high expectations. A season-opening 6-0-1 run appeared to indicate Minnesota was capable of making the jump into the NHL's elite, but a weak offense compounded by the absence of star forward Marian Gaborik has left the Wild seven points behind co-leaders Calgary and Vancouver in the Northwest.
Minnesota is just 9-13-1 since that seven-game start, going 0-5-1 in its last six contests. The Wild had lost five straight in regulation before Wednesday's 3-2 overtime loss to visiting Calgary.
The current six-game skid is the Wild's longest stretch without a victory since they had four losses and three ties from Feb. 22-March 7, 2004.
While it wasn't enough for a win, Minnesota had to be happy to get Gaborik back on Wednesday after he missed 27 games with a lower body injury. Gaborik had a goal and an assist in his long-awaited comeback, but Todd Bertuzzi's goal at 3:48 of overtime kept the Wild winless since Dec. 3.
"It was so exciting to score, especially after I was out for a couple months," Gaborik said. "It's always good to get out there. When you get a goal or a point, it's always a bonus. It's too bad we couldn't get two points, but every point counts in this situation we are in right now."
Gaborik should provide a much-needed lift for Minnesota, which has scored a Western Conference-low 78 goals, including seven in the last six games. The power play also hasn't been much help, going 2-for-21 during the last six contests.
"Right now what's happening is very simple," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "Guys are trying to come back and play as well as they can. They are making one mistake, pay the price. They make another one, give them a chance, and get exposed. That's where we're at right now."
While the playoffs seemed like a longshot, the Islanders (10-18-3) hoped to at least infuse some youth into their aging lineup this season. Injuries, however, to Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo have prevented their best young players from gaining valuable experience and a knee injury to No. 1 goaltender Rick DiPietro has kept him sidelined since October.
Without DiPietro - their best player - the Islanders have allowed an NHL-worst 115 goals and are among the league's worst teams.
Like Minnesota, New York is also coming off an overtime loss, falling 5-4 to Washington on Tuesday after scoring twice in the third to force the extra period.
Richard Park had a goal and two assists for the Islanders, who dropped to 1-8-1 in their last 10 games.
"No one feels sorry for you except for guys in this room," said center Doug Weight, who is three points shy of 1,000. "We have to get ourselves out of it."
One bright spot for the Islanders has been the play of defenseman Mark Streit, who is tied for third among NHL defensemen with 24 points this season.
The Wild have won the last two overall meetings with the Islanders and are 3-1-0 in the all-time series at home.