LOS ANGELES -- After a big win in San Jose on Thursday night, the focus of the Minnesota Wild shifted southward in California as it preps for the first of back-to-back games in the southern part of the state this weekend.
Minnesota will play the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on Saturday afternoon before finishing the road trip on Sunday against the Anaheim Ducks.
It's not a typical trip to the area for the Wild this time, however, as coach Bruce Boudreau returns to Southern California for the first time with his new team.
"It's hard to say with a straight face that this is just another road trip," Boudreau said. "It's great to see old friends. I've seen a few of them today and I'm sure I'm going to see a few of them tomorrow and a few of them the next day.
"It's exciting to come back to where you once lived and see people you like. It's a special weekend."
Boudreau coached the Ducks for each of the past 4 1/2 seasons, compiling a 208-104-40 record in 352 games and winning four Pacific Division championships.
It helps coming back with a team that is among the best in the NHL. The Wild is currently 24-9-4 on the season, the best start through 37 games in franchise history. It's the only team in the Western Conference with fewer than 10 regulation losses this season.
"It doesn't hurt coming in here playing good," Boudreau said. "But you know both of these teams are going to be pretty up to play against us too, as San Jose was. I think it's the toughest gauntlet to go through in hockey."
Years before coaching the Ducks, Boudreau also spent time with the Kings organization, as a coach with the club's American Hockey League affiliate in Manchester, New Hampshire.
The Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California, where the Wild practiced on Friday, is the site of Kings Prospect Camp, and Boudreau said he spent a week or two each summer essentially camped out at the place.
The connection to both L.A. area clubs will always make coming back here a fun trip for Boudreau. This one in particular is one the players want to make extra special.
"We want to keep heading in the right direction," said Wild forward Charlie Coyle. "We know he was here in Anaheim and that adds a little bit extra for him. We want to be on the winning end of things."
Niederreiter Moves Up
Wild forward Nino Niederreiter provided Minnesota with a huge spark in the win over San Jose after he was moved from the third line to the right wing spot next to Zach Parise and Eric Staal on the top grouping.
Moments into the third period, a rebound of a Niederreiter shot was jammed in by Parise to tie the game at 2-2. After San Jose scored goals just over 30 seconds apart, it was the Wild's top line that stopped the bleeding with Staal's second goal of the night.
It was the first of three-straight by Minnesota as it rallied for a 5-4 victory.
Niederreiter practiced there on Friday and will begin the game against the Kings there on Saturday.
Jordan Schroeder, who had been on the top line Thursday, was moved to the fourth line with Chris Stewart and Tyler Graovac. Jason Pominville, who was on that line, shifted up to Niederreiter's former position on the third line with Erik Haula and Charlie Coyle.
"I like the way he protected the puck on the boards," Boudreau said of the lefty Niederreiter's play on the right side. "He was giving the puck up from the left side so I thought maybe on the right side, he wouldn't give it up. It worked out OK."
USA, All the Way
The Wild's American contingent was walking a little taller today after Team USA's shootout win over Canada in the Gold Medal game of the IIHF World Junior Championships last night in Montreal.
Like the Wild, the Americans rallied from 2-0 and 4-2 deficits to the win, a fact not lost on Wild forward Zach Parise.
Two third-period goals by Canada gave them a 4-2 advantage moments before the Wild went out for warmups. By the time they came back in, the U.S. had tied the game at 4-4.
Overtime in the world junior game and the first period of the Wild contest overlapped, allowing the players to catch part of the shootout during the first intermission.
"It's always nice to see that. They played hard and had a great tournament," said Wild forward Jason Zucker, who captained Team USA at the World Junior Championships in 2012. "It was a great win and always proud to see USA win that."