LOS ANGELES — Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau understands better than most how difficult the three-game trip through California can be for non-West Coast teams.
The Wild open their three-game California trip on Tuesday night at the Los Angeles Kings, then will visit the Anaheim Ducks on Friday and the San Jose Sharks on Sunday before returning home.
Boudreau spent four full seasons and part of another in Anaheim before he was hired by Minnesota last season. He said the Ducks knew full well they had an edge on incoming teams making the California swing.
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“We used to, in Anaheim, salivate when we’d look at other team’s schedules, and seeing where they were coming from, how many games they’d played when they were coming into our building,” Boudreau told the Wild’s web site. “I know L.A. used to do the same thing. I know once you got going on the downslide there, it’s not hard to lose all three in California.”
Minnesota has won two in a row against two of the top teams in the Western Conference, the St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights. The Wild will be up against a Los Angeles team that owns the second-best record in the West after winning its past five games, including its last four on the road.
“It means we got eight points on this trip,” Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick said of the road sweep. “Now we’ve got to go home, and our game at home hasn’t been as good as we’d like it to be, so we’ve got to try to correct that and win the next time out.”
The Kings are 7-5-2 at Staples Center this season, losing five straight on home ice during one stretch last month.
They’ve been boosted by strong bounce-back years from the two longest-tenured players on the team, center Anze Kopitar and right wing Dustin Brown.
Kopitar has 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) and Brown has 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists), both in 28 games. Kopitar has already surpassed his goal total from last season (12) in 76 games, and Brown is nearing last season’s total of 14 goals in 80 games.
Boudreau said he believes the rise in production from Kopitar and Brown is related to the departure of hard-driving coach Darryl Sutter, who was fired after the Kings missed the playoffs for the second time in three years last season. They had won two Stanley Cup titles in the previous three seasons. Sutter was replaced by John Stevens, who brings a much calmer approach to the rink.
“I’ve got to believe, and I don’t have a clue, I’m just guessing, but Kopitar and Brown didn’t get along with Sutter, because they’re having career years,” Boudreau said. “There was a disconnect somewhere. Maybe they went home and it had nothing to do with Darryl, it was just them? But I coached Brown when he was young and he’s playing the same way right now. When he’s playing like that, that’s a force.”
Kopitar said the team’s success this season hasn’t been the result of one or two players.
“You know, that’s what we pride ourselves on,” Kopitar said. “It’s not just the one guy or the two guys doing it, it’s anybody on any given night, and our depth scoring has been pretty good and that’s why we went 4-0 on this trip.”