Published November 02, 2017
SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- After scoring eight goals on Monday, the Montreal Canadiens are finally feeling good about their offense.
The Minnesota Wild will try to stop Montreal's momentum on Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center.
Montreal (4-7-1) recorded an 8-3 win at Ottawa on Monday to start a four-game road trip, continuing its recovery after a slow start. The Canadiens have scored at least five goals in three of their past four games.
"We're in good spirits," Montreal defenseman Jordie Benn told the team's website after practice Wednesday. "It was a good practice today, there was a lot of smiling out there and messing around, but also good, hard work. We're confident going into the road trip."
The Wild (4-4-2) appeared to be gaining some traction as well after a similar tough start to their season. Playing without four of their top six forwards for much of the season, Minnesota was getting healthy with Mikael Granlund back in the lineup and Nino Niederreiter returning Tuesday after missing six games with a left high ankle sprain.
Forwards Zach Parise (microdiscectomy) and Charlie Coyle (right fibula fracture) are still out for an extended period, but the Wild also had a season-long, six-game homestand to right their fortunes.
They are 2-2-0 in the first four games of the homestand after a 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.
"I think there's a feeling-out process this year, too, with quite a few different guys in and out of the lineup," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said on the team's website. "If you think about the guys we're missing from last year's team, and the turnaround, there has been a feeling-out process. And we're getting better, but it's not where we want to be.
"The other day, we showed game 20 (last season) against Pittsburgh, which is where we started to take off a little bit. And we weren't anywhere near where we were there (on Saturday), but we're starting to get closer, and a little bit better and a little bit sooner than I think we did last year."
Scoring has been an issue at times for Minnesota, too. The Wild, who were second in the NHL in goals scored last season, have scored two goals or fewer in three of the four games during the homestand.
"When you're trying to be cute and just pick very little corners or little spots on the ice, it doesn't work for you," Boudreau said after the Tuesday loss in which Minnesota outshot Winnipeg 12-2 in the third period and couldn't tie the game. "And unfortunately, when you're not scoring as an individual and you want to score, you tend to be that cute because you want to make the perfect shot rather than sit back and say, 'I'm just going to get seven shots on net, and hopefully, one of them's going to go in at some point.'"
Boudreau mentioned self-preparation from his players multiple times following the loss to the Jets, hinting his team hasn't prepared properly in recent games.
Rookie Luke Kunin, who has been impressive in his NHL debut and has scored in two of the past three games, spoke of the effort.
"We didn't play to our strengths, we didn't play to our game plan. I thought it was a little dead out there," Kunin said. "Too many turnovers and just not doing the right things to win hockey games. That's going to cost you in this league, and we've got to be better."
Alex Stalock started in goal for the Wild on Tuesday, meaning top netminder Devan Dubnyk likely will start against Montreal on Thursday. Dubnyk has struggled at times this season and has a 3.04 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.
The offense Dubnyk will face is on a roll.
Charles Hudon and Artturi Lehkonen led the way Monday with two goals apiece, their first of the season.
"(Hudon and Lehkonen) had a great preseason. The longer it goes, maybe they're squeezing their sticks a little tighter. But you knew it was going to come," defenseman Shea Weber told the Canadiens' website. "They're both good players, and I'm happy to see them both score tonight."
Montreal's Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty have each scored in three of the past four games. Brendan Gallagher has two goals in the past four games, and Montreal has power-play goals in each of the past two games.
Canadiens coach Claude Julien confirmed on the team's website he will turn back to goaltender Carey Price on Thursday after Al Montoya started Monday. Forward Andrew Shaw, who missed practice Wednesday due to the flu, also will travel with the team to Minnesota.