ST. PAUL -- The game Thursday between the Wild and the Montreal Canadiens is one where both teams are still trying to get to their game as the regular season enters its second month.
Injuries have caused inconsistency early on for the Wild, which has started to find its defensive game of late.
After allowing four goals in four of its first five games this season, an uncharacteristically high number, Minnesota has given up two or fewer in four of its past five.
"We're a good defensive hockey team, so we were going to get to our game eventually and obviously you want to get there as soon as possible in the start of the season," said Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk. "The schedule made it a little tough to do that, to get into a rhythm, but we've certainly been playing the way we need to play defensively lately and I would fully expect that to continue, that's something that we've been good at for a long time in here."
As the schedule has become more regular of late -- playing every other night or so -- Minnesota's defensive rhythm has also improved. Now, the goal is find a consistency in their own games.
Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon have been particularly steady early in the season. Mike Reilly has improved while Kyle Quincey has been a solid free-agent addition. Gustav Olofsson hasn't seen as much playing time, but coach Bruce Boudreau complimented his play versus the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.
It's the second pairing of Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba that is still trying to find that consistency.
"We didn't start off that good I think, but I think it's getting better, every game is better," Brodin said. "We're getting more comfortable with each other. I think we just gotta keep doing that and it's gonna come back to where we want to be."
Brodin struggled early in the year but has been very good over the past few games. Dumba will try and rebound from a tough outing on Tuesday when he was benched for the final 19 minutes of action in a 2-1 loss to the Jets.
Faced with the decision to sit him out of tonight's game, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau showed faith in his defenseman.
"It crossed my mind," Boudreau admitted. "In the end, I thought 19 minutes was enough, and hopefully, he got the message."
In a similar situation last year, Dumba responded with his best game of the season, a game that seemed to spark him the rest of the campaign. Boudreau hopes the same thing happens Thursday versus the Canadiens.
"We've talked a lot. I would anticipate that he's gonna be playing better," Boudreau said.
Montreal got off to a horrific start to the season, winning just once in its first seven games (the season opener at Buffalo). But the Canadiens have rebounded of late, having won three of four, including an impressive 8-3 win in Ottawa on Monday.
Goaltender Carey Price has struggled in the early going, posting a 3-6-1 record with a .883 save percentage and a 3.64 goals against. He's allowed four goals or more in four of his past five starts, but Dubnyk knows he's capable of posting a low number every time he's between the posts.
"There's a lot of good goalies in the League, but when there's one guy year after year considered the best in the world, it's always a challenge, especially when you only see him twice a year," Dubnyk said. "Experience-wise, I never play against the other goalie, he doesn't shoot on me. My only concern is to fully expect that he's not going to give up very many on the other end, so I need to do my part as well."
Here are the projected lineups:
Nino Niederreiter - Eric Staal - Luke Kunin
Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund
Marcus Foligno - Joel Eriksson Ek - Chris Stewart
Tyler Ennis - Matt Cullen - Daniel Winnik
Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin - Matt Dumba
Gustav Olofsson - Mike Reilly
Artturi Lehkonen - Jonathan Drouin - Paul Byron
Max Pacioretty - Phillip Danault - Andrew Shaw
Charles Hudon - Tomas Plekanec - Brendan Gallagher
Alex Galchenyuk - Michael McCarron - Torrey Mitchell
Victor Mete - Shea Weber
Karl Alzner - Jordie Benn
Jeff Petry - Brandon Davidson