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Preview: Wild get familiar faces back for afternoon battle

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Foligno and Fiala will return for the matinee against Arizona

Minnesota Wild v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Though their schedule has been in flux recently due to reasons more important than hockey, you have to believe the Minnesota Wild players had to appreciate a bit more time to get their minds right after a disappointing weekend in St. Louis that saw them trounced 9-1 and then upended in overtime 3-2 on a pair of late unfortunate bounces. And even though the NHL trade deadline was a quiet one for the Wild, they’ll be welcoming back some familiar faces to the lineup as the Arizona Coyotes come to town for a matinee matchup.

The Wild’s second-leading goal scorer and point earner Kevin Fiala makes his return after being deemed a last-minute scratch from Saturday night’s game against the Blues, having attempted to give it a go in pregame skate only to watch the overtime loss from the press box. But perhaps more notable is the long-awaited return of Wild forward Marcus Foligno, who has missed 16 games with a broken ankle lower-body injury.

And as we all know, Foligno’s absence is 100% the reason why the Wild’s expected goals at five-on-five have plummeted like Gamestop stock after an earnings call.

Seriously though, while Foligno’s injury isn’t entirely to blame for the lack of offensive zone time and inability to outshoot their opponents in the last 14 games, having Moose back in the lineup will no doubt give the Wild a bit of grit and jump they’ve been missing, as well as allow Minnesota to finally get some of their line combos back to the ones that helped propel them towards the top of the division in February - if only for a short time.

Minnesota will still likely be missing Nick Bjugstad, who wouldn’t have been able to go had the Wild/Blues game gone on as scheduled on Monday night.

As for Arizona, since being swept by the Wild in mid March, the Coyotes have hung around the final playoff spot in the West by beating the teams they should and struggling against the class of the division. Since March 18th, against the teams behind them (the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks) the Coyotes have managed a 6-1-1 record over the last month. Against the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights (they didn’t play the Wild or Blues during that span), the Coyotes went 1-5-0 and had games where they’ve give un 4, 5, 7 and 9 goals.

Sound familiar?

A game against the Coyotes will be another good litmus test for the Wild, and an immediate referendum on whether or not general manager Bill Guerin’s passive approach at the trade deadline, neither buying nor selling, was the correct call.

Coyotes fans may be wondering the same thing about Bill Armstrong, who also decided to stand pat at the deadline despite an opportunity to either add pieces for a playoff run or move veterans on expiring contracts like Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers for future considerations.

While the Coyotes have gotten most of their skating roster back from injuries that have derailed the growth that Arizona was hoping to see this season, they are still missing their top two starting goaltenders Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta, both of whom are considered “week-to-week” by head coach Rich Tocchet. They’ve been forced to rely on young and inexperienced rookies Adin Hill and Ivan Prosvetov in net, and while Hill has had his moments - at one point enjoying a string of six wins in seven starts - none of the goaltenders that have seen the ice for the Coyotes this season have been the kind that can carry a team on a playoff run.

That being said, the Wild were expected to take care of a struggling Blues squad in their recent series, so assume the same about the Coyotes at your own peril.

The Athletic’s Michael Russo had the birds-eye view of morning skate yesterday and saw the long-awaited return to some of the lines that brought the Wild success earlier in the season, including Kirill Kaprizov-Victor Rask-Mats Zuccarello and Jordan Greenway-Joel Eriksson Ek-Marcus Foligno.

Cam Talbot was slated to start against the Blues, so one has to assume he’ll man the crease against the Coyotes.

Can the Wild get their Mojo back in the stretch run towards the playoffs? Or will another lackluster performance have fans wishing Billy G had sold off everyone not named Kaprizov?

Puck drops at 1 p.m.

Burning Questions

Can the Moose get loose?

Man has this team missed Marcus Foligno. The Wild may have missed out adding his brother Nick at the deadline, but getting at least one Foligno into the lineup might jump-start the roster and get Minnesota back to the powerhouse they appeared to be at five-on-five earlier in the season.

Of course, there’s some rust to be knocked off. But it would be great to see Moose make an impact in his first game back.

Can Sturm lock down his spot in the lineup?

Nico Sturm was a healthy scratch for the blowout win against the Avs and the blowout loss against the Blues. He made the most of his return on Saturday with a goal and a faceoff percentage of 72%. Now that he’s out of Dean’s doghouse, can Sturm continue to show Evason he deserves to stay by getting the fourth line with Zach Parise and Nick Bonino going?

Can the Wild get back to what worked against the Coyotes before?

From the start of the season through the three-game series against the Coyotes in mid March, the Wild led the league in expected goals for per 60 at five-on-five at 2.47 and were just behind the Colorado Avalanche in expected goals percentage at even strength. Since then, at five-on-five, the Wild are second worst in the league at 1.72 xGF/60, and dead last in xGF% at 37.25%.

The three game stretch against Arizona in mid March was the last time the Wild had a Corsi For over 50% and an expected goals for percentage of 60% or higher.

Minnesota finally has essentially the same lineup they had the last time they played the Coyotes, with Johansson healthy instead of Bjugstad. With their lines back in tact, if they can play a similar offensive game that they did during their winning streak in February and get back to the strong defense they’re known for, there’s no reason they can’t rip off another string of wins, especially with Colorado no longer on the schedule and only two home games against Vegas remaining between now and the end of the regular season.