The Minnesota Wild aren’t exactly the first team that comes to mind when thinking of the Montreal Canadiens’ greatest rivals.
As far as recent history goes, however, the Canadiens will look to reverse what has been a very one-sided rivalry when they host the Wild on Monday night.
The Wild have won each of their last eight games against the Canadiens, outscoring Montreal by a 35-10 margin in that stretch. That dominant run includes a 7-1 rout on Dec. 11 in Saint Paul, during the two teams’ first meeting of the season.
Montreal rebounded from that loss to win seven of its next 10 games, though head coach Claude Julien felt his team was “outplayed from start to finish” in their most recent outing, a 4-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Saturday.
“They (the Predators) were sharp, they were good, and we didn’t seem to have a response,” Julien said. “Tonight I thought we were soft, losing battles, second to the puck everywhere. … You can’t just come in and think you can just play. You’ve got to play with a purpose, play with an edge and you’ve got to want to be better than the other team, and that wasn’t the case tonight.”
Between the loss to Nashville and the New York Islanders’ win on Saturday, the Canadiens dropped out of an Eastern Conference playoff position for just the second time this season.”
The Wild come into Montreal on the heels of victories in the first two stops on a four-game road trip. While goals haven’t been hard to come by for the Wild against the Canadiens, Minnesota looks to be coming out of a recent offensive slump after scoring eight goals in those two wins, a pair of 4-3 results over the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators.
Much of that offense has been generated by the line of Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise and Luke Kunin, who have combined for 19 points over the Wild’s last five games. Parise has contributed nine of those points (four goals, five assists) himself, and is on a five-game point streak.
“I really like how our line’s playing. We hunt the puck down. When we don’t have it, we work hard to get it back,” Parise said. “We’re aggressive on the forecheck, and Charlie’s doing a really good job with speed through the middle of the ice. We’re getting in the zone with possession. And Luke, you feel like he’s getting better and better every game. They’re fun guys to play with.”
The Wild also found success with a pair of newly configured lines on Saturday against the Senators. Jordan Greenway scored a goal after being moved alongside Eric Staal and Mikael Granlund, while Jason Zucker took Greenway’s former spot on a line with Mikko Koivu and Nino Niederreiter.
Since the Canadiens also play on Tuesday in Detroit, goalie Carey Price is likely to sit for one of these next two games, though Montreal may be apt to use Price against the Wild on Monday. Backup goalie Antti Niemi allowed all seven goals in that Dec. 11 loss to Minnesota.
The Wild were 4-for-4 in power play opportunities against the Canadiens last month, but have since struggled with the man advantage. Minnesota has just one goal from its last 17 power play chances.
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