The Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers enter tonight's game in KeyBank Center with a combined record of 13-25-6. The Sabres are last in the Eastern Conference and one point out of the NHL's overall basement. The Oilers are seventh in the Pacific Division and 14th in the West.
In fact, Edmonton and Buffalo are Nos. 29 and 30, respectively, in the 31-team NHL entering the weekend. That's not remotely what their fans or anyone around the league expected on that June night in 2015 when Connor McDavid was drafted No. 1 overall by Edmonton and Jack Eichel was taken No. 2 by the Sabres.
McDavid and Eichel were big winners at all levels of hockey until hitting the NHL. Understandably, neither was in a great mood when meeting the media today in KeyBank Center.
"I just think we should stop feeling sorry for ourselves, complaining or making excuses for what's going on," Eichel said of the Sabres, who are 0-5-2 in their last seven games. "We just need to come together and work harder. I think that's always the key to success. Things aren't going right, start preparing better and working harder off the ice. Things usually translate."
"You're trying to string wins together. We've found ways to string losses together," said McDavid, whose team snapped a three-game skid with Wednesday's 6-2 win in Detroit. "We have to find a way to put together a streak and get ourselves back in it. We're disappointed, yeah, but the only people who have any control of where this team goes is us."
McDavid is sixth in the NHL in scoring with 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) while Eichel is way back, tied for 53rd with 18 points and just six goals. All the rivalry talk that's existed since they entered the league has fizzled away; neither was even asked about the other today. The focus is solely within their own dressing rooms.
While the Sabres were simply hoping to sneak into the playoff race this year, Edmonton was a chic pick to win the West and make the Stanley Cup final after getting to Game Seven of the second round last year in Anaheim.
Bad goaltending and a lack of secondary scoring has killed the Oilers this far while the Sabres have had simliar problems and seem to have a locker room where players do as they please without fear of teammates speaking against them.
That was the theme of two-time Cup champion Jordan Nolan's comments after Wednesday's loss to Minnesota.
Eichel: "Guys need to trust their instincts and understand we're all in this together. I think desperation should be in our game every time you go on the ice, no matter who you're playing, no matter when and where. We're a team that needs to be desperate and nothing changes about that tonight."
McDavid: "I don't think you can feel sorry for yourself at all. We're the ones who got ourselves in this and we're the ones who's going to get ourselves out. ... We're learning about going through this. A lot of guys in this room, myself included, haven't gone the other way where we've expected to be good and we weren't very good. That's a new thing for a lot of guys. Like anyone else, it's not fun. It's not fun to come to the rink and lose."
Sabres coach Phil Housley saw a lot of McDavid the last couple years in Nashville, but got to the Cup final in June with a Predators team that didn't have a true franchise player and, in fact, was without two key injured forwards.
"It definitely has to be a collective effort," said Housley. "I've never seen one player win a game for a hockey team. It's a team effort. I think when you look at it, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are tremendous players, top players in this league and that's why they're going to get a lot of attention. They're only one piece of the puzzle. You have to play together as a team. ... You look at the great teams, there's always great support around them."