SAN JOSE, Calif. – When he coached the Ducks from 2011 to 2016, Bruce Boudreau always would study the schedule of visiting teams traveling through California.
Typically, Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose were lumped together for a West Coast trip, and Boudreau preferred to be the last stop on the three-game tour.
“It’s usually three games in four nights,” he said. “It was a tough stretch. We always knew that if we got the team first that that was going to be their best game of the trip. If we got the team second, they were usually coming off a loss [so] we better dig in the first period because they were going to be adamant from losing the night before. They got a good rest, but they’re probably mad and they know they have to go into San Jose usually next.”
Boudreau remembers most challengers finishing 0-3 or 1-2, a testament to just how grueling the stretch was earlier this decade when each team was among the most talented in the NHL.
But as the Wild continues its four-game trek out west, with the second leg Thursday in San Jose, the itinerary doesn’t feel as daunting as it did in the past.
Instead, many of the foes facing the Wild on this 10-day expedition are in the same position it is — trying to restore their reputation as a competitive threat.
“It’s just a little different,” winger Zach Parise said. “You’re so used to seeing those other teams at the top.”
After the Wild (5-9-1) kicked off its week with a 4-2 comeback win over the Ducks on Tuesday, the stiffest test remaining on its agenda isn’t even in California.
The Coyotes, at 9-4-2, are the best of the rest, ahead of the Sharks and Kings.
San Jose is off to a miserable start, sitting 5-10-1 — a baffling turnout considering the team was just in the Western Conference finals earlier this year, had a spot in the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 and overall has been a playoff participant in 14 of the previous 15 seasons.
Los Angeles (5-10) is one point worse as it wears the growing pains of rebuilding with a veteran core, even one that was crowned champions in 2012 and 2014.
Even Anaheim, which was a perennial division winner under Boudreau after claiming the 2007 Stanley Cup, is retooling by getting younger after missing the playoffs last season. And despite Tuesday’s loss to the Wild, the early returns for the Ducks at 9-7-1 have been the most encouraging among its intrastate neighbors.
“This is a tough league,” center Eric Staal said. “There’s a lot of good teams, and every single night anybody can win. That’s just the reality of the way the game’s gone.”
Subconsciously, players are aware of the bigger picture at play, Staal said, but the focus in the locker room must be narrow — an outlook that would be especially prudent for the Wild at this juncture.
“Regardless of where you’re at, I think [everyone’s] focus — whether you’re way ahead or way behind — is daily,” Staal said.
Spirits were upbeat Wednesday in Anaheim, where the Wild practiced before departing for San Jose, but Boudreau emphasized the Wild needs to repeat that type of performance to start progressing.
“It’s good to be happy,” he said. “But let’s keep everything under control. We didn’t win the Cup [on Tuesday] night. We won one game.”
Duplicating the puck movement that helped the Wild overcome a two-goal deficit would be a smart springboard, as the Wild’s behind-the-net retrievals and offensive-zone possession — which involved the defense — were the catalysts for its four straight goals takeover.
And it’s by concentrating on the building blocks that turn strong shifts into productive periods that the Wild can start to chip away at the hole it’s found itself in, a resurgence that could begin to take shape against clubs also trying to rebound.
“There’s a lot of games left,” Parise said. “It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but [Tuesday] night was a start. Let’s play [Thursday] and keep trying to keep climbing. That’s gotta be our approach.”