The Minnesota Wild were doing just fine without star left wing Marian Gaborik, but his absence has become magnified by several other injuries.
Minnesota looks to avoid a season-worst third straight loss as it continues a five-game road trip against the struggling Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.
Losing Gaborik, the team's best offensive player, to a groin injury Oct. 20 figured to leave a huge void in Minnesota's lineup, but the Wild (10-4-0) won their next three games to improve to 9-1-0. Since then, however, they've lost three of four, including a 3-1 defeat to San Jose on Tuesday in the first game of the trip.
"All the group in general played hard, but when you play a good team and you play with two (healthy) centers, what are you going to do?" Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said.
Defensive specialist Wes Walz sat for the third time in four games, missing Tuesday's contest with a strained hip flexor. Center Jason Morgan underwent surgery Wednesday to relieve pressure from bleeding in his right thigh and is out indefinitely.
The Wild were already thin at center because Pavol Demitra was moved to right wing, which forced Lemaire to use winger Pascal Dupuis at center.
"Wes is one of the best checking centermen in the league," Minnesota's Mark Parrish said. "We miss him badly."
Walz skated at practice on Thursday and could return Saturday, while Gaborik isn't expected back until December at the earliest.
Minnesota has also benefitted from a favorable early schedule with nine of its first 13 games at home. Tuesday began a stretch where it plays seven of eight on the road.
Two first-year members of the Wild that were expected to produce offensively this season were Parrish and Demitra, especially now that Gaborik is out of the lineup for an undetermined time. The veterans, however, have contributed only three goals apiece and are a combined minus-10.
Minnesota will be trying to beat the Kings (5-10-3) for the third time this season.
Gaborik's overtime goal lifted the Wild to their franchise-record sixth straight win, 2-1 at Staples Center on Oct. 18. Brian Rolston scored twice and Manny Fernandez stopped a season-high 35 shots in a 3-1 home victory on Oct. 25.
Los Angeles allowed four first-period goals and was unable to recover in a 7-3 loss to visiting San Jose on Thursday.
"The effort was there, it was just misguided at times," Kings coach Marc Crawford said. "We tried to respond with too much effort. We tried to do too much, and that's poison against a team like San Jose that moves the puck."
A weak defense has been the biggest culprit in the Kings losing three of four and eight of their last 10 games. They've allowed 18 goals in the past three contests and their 60 goals surrendered this season is the second-worst mark in the Western Conference.
Mathieu Garon hasn't been helped by his defense, yielding 12 goals on 43 shots over his last two starts. Dan Cloutier has also struggled with a 2-6-2 record and 3.54 goals-against average.
One of the biggest disappointments among the Kings' forwards has been veteran Craig Conroy, who has five points in 18 games after recording 66 in 78 contests last season.