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Preview: Wild face basement-dwelling Canadiens in Montreal

If there is such a thing as a trap game, this is it.

Montreal Canadiens v Minnesota Wild Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

A five-game losing streak and a 2-6-0 record in April. A month where their leaky defence and abysmal goaltenders — all with a sub-.900 save percentage this month — are letting goals at the shocking rate of more than four per game.

The Montreal Canadiens folks.

The Minnesota Wild head into an arena full of good vibes and bad hockey. Carey Price returned last week after taking personal leave to start the season, taking the net for the first time for a 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders. They fired Dominic Ducharmes and have been a much happier bunch since Marty St. Louis took the reigns 31 games ago. But there are things that not even everyone’s favorite short king can fix.

No one on this team — outside of a resurgent Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki — seems interested in putting the puck in the net. After St. Louis's arrival in February, the diminutive Caulfield has tallied all but one of his 18 goals. Since the coaching change, both Suzuki and Caulfield have been highly productive, with 30 points in 31 games each. To illustrate just how much it drops off afterwards, Wild Legend Rem Pitlick is third on the team in that span with 17 points.

Professional thorn-in-the-side, Brendan Gallagher, is on pace for a career-worst 31 points across 82 games.

Their powerplay is an abomination, converting on only 13.4 percent of their opportunities. Caulfield and Suzuki have 13 of the teams’ 31 powerplay markers.

Overall they have the 31st ranked defense (2.55 goals per game) and the league’s worst defense (3.86 goals against per game).

This is just not a team with anything to play for but pride—the most dangerous kind of opponent.

The Wild are being guided into the game by the red-hot comet that is Kevin Fiala. Recently named the NHL’s Second Star of the Week, Fiala had five goals and five assists in four games last week. He leads the Wild in goals (5), assists (6), points (11) and is tied for second for shots (15) in the last five games. This is Kevin Fiala at his best, and we’ll take it, at least until he’s a restricted free agent in the offseason.

Cam Talbot is in net, having not lost a start in regulation since March 1, going 10-0-3 in 13 starts. The goalie carousel continues between him and Marc-André Fleury.

Marcus Foligno joins Matt Dumba, Jon Merrill, Jordan Greenway and Tyson Jost on the sidelines as he entered COVID protocol yesterday. Mitchell Chaffee, who has 37 points in 45 games with the Iowa Wild, will likely slot into his spot in the lineup.

If there was ever an opponent that you could get the win over with a chunk of your regular lineup missing, it’s the Canadiens.

Puck drops at 6:00 p.m. CT.

Burning Questions

What will the bottom of the roster look like?

With all the notable absences, the deep end of the lineup is looking thin. The top two lines — Kirill Kaprizov/Ryan Hartman/Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Fiala/Frederick Gaudreau/Matthew Boldy — are the only ones intact. Without Dumba or Merrill, Jacob Middleton plays top pairing minutes alongside Jared Spurgeon.

Will it take long for Dean Evason to mix the lines up if the Wild get off to a slow start?

Can a supernova Kevin Fiala stay that way?

He’s making it hard for GM Bill Guerin to make a decision in the coming offseason. Fiala has looked like the secondary scoring threat that makes good teams into championship contenders in the last stretch of games. Will he keep turning the screws?