The Kings held an optional skate Wednesday, and most of the players took the option to do something else. Injured defenseman Willie Mitchell hit the ice, though. He couldn’t say afterward when he might be sound enough to rejoin the Kings’ lineup. He sat out Tuesday’s win over the Oilers because of an unspecified upper-body injury. “It was good, it was encouraging, just keep progressing,” Mitchell said.
The Kings’ bid for a franchise-record 12th consecutive game with at least one point came to a halt when they lost Saturday to the Calgary Flames. The prevailing thought in the dressing room was simply to “park it,” as defenseman Willie Mitchell phrased it Sunday. In other words, put it out by the curb and walk away from it. The Kings (16-7-4) have issues, starting with their faulty power play. They haven’t scored a man-advantage goal in the last five games, going 0 for 18. Right wing Justin Williams said the Kings need more shots from point-blank range instead of firing them from the perimeter while on the power play.
Williams scored the Kings’ lone goal Saturday, the 200th of his NHL career. Anze Kopitar had an assist for his 500th point. The teams meet for the first time since the Kings defeated the Blues in the first round of the playoffs last spring. The Blues are 18-4-3 and have the league’s second-best power play (22 for 89, 24.7 percent). Alexander Steen was tied with Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks for third in scoring with 31 points (20 goals, 11 assists), as of Sunday morning. Only Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (21) had more goals than Steen. Each had played 20 games.
After he watched the Kings give up two power-play goals in the first period Saturday against the Nashville Predators, after he saw their penalty-killing unit surrender at least one goal for the six consecutive game, coach Darryl Sutter decided to say something.
After a four-game stretch in which the Kings did not give up a power-play goal, they’ve hit a skid that dropped them into 22nd place in the NHL, as of Wednesday morning. They are 50 of 63 on the penalty-kill for a rather pedestrian 79.4 percent success rate after 15 games. They have given up at least one power-play in six consecutive games going into Thursday’s contest against the Buffalo Sabres.
The Kings’ penalty-killing unit gave up two first-period power-play goals to the Nashville Predators during Saturday’s 4-3 loss. Coach Darryl Sutter later questioned the effectiveness of defensemen Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell, and even wondered about Jonathan Quick’s play in goal. The Kings have given up at least one power-play goal in six consecutive games.
The quality of the Kings’ penalties was lacking in the early going, however. Daniel Carcillo went to the box for kneeing on a play some 150 feet from his own net. Kyle Clifford followed him later after taking a boarding penalty in the neutral zone, more than 100 feet from his own goal.
“Those are penalties you don’t want,” team captain Dustin Brown said, speaking generally about penalties in the offensive and neutral zones rather than specifically about Carcillo’s and Clifford’s infractions. “We have to be smarter, that’s for sure. We’ve also got to kill penalties off at the end of the day.”
The league began to scrutinize fighting after the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak, Bob Probert and Rick Rypien in recent years, a good idea as far as Kings defenseman Willie Mitchel is concerned. All four were considered top heavyweights, men who made NHL rosters because they could fight rather than score goals.
Here’s a sneak-peak at what Willie Mitchell said about fighting in today’s NHL …
“You don’t have players who play four or five shifts and just do that now,” Mitchell said of the decline of designated fighters around the league. “Coaches can’t afford that. The game’s too big. The players are too good. You can have a player play a physical game, but also play hockey.
“It’s like anything, it takes time. I think it’s on the right path. It’s a very traditionalist game. I respect tradition. I respect all the guys who played before me and gave me the opportunity to play the game. It’s just the evolution of the game and I think you’re seeing that.”
Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell was the latest player to come to the defense of goaltender Jonathan Quick, who’s misplay of a long clearing pass resulted in a 175-foot shorthanded goal for the New York Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh on Monday. Unlike the others, Mitchell laughed off the fans’ mock cheer after Quick saved a similar shot moments after the Rangers took a commanding 3-1 lead in the third period.
Defenseman Willie Mitchell is expected to make his first appearance in a Kings uniform at Staples Center since the decisive Game 6 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final when he joins the lineup for Tuesday’s exhibition against the Ducks. Mitchell sat out all of last season because of a knee injury, but he has recovered well enough to be back on the ice during training camp. He made his 2013 exhibition debut by logging 23 minutes, 16 seconds in the Kings’ overtime loss last Friday to the Colorado Avalanche. Only defenseman Slava Voynov played more minutes among the Kings than Mitchell. Voynov played 28:02.
“Makes sense to play him tomorrow and go from there,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said.
Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell smiled faintly when asked Thursday if he was getting impatient while awaiting his first game since the 2011-12 season after suffering a knee injury that knocked him out for all of the lockout-shortened 2012-13:
“It’s just, I guess, more rewarding. That part of it is fun, of working to give myself this opportunity, and working to this point to, hopefully, help the team out again. I know I can do that as long as I stay healthy. I guess the anticipation of that is there. But the game itself is just taking it as what I’ve done for however many years I’ve played, is that it’s just another game, just another preseason game, and the same preparation, the same work, the same all that. Just because I haven’t played in 14 months, I don’t think it’s like all of a sudden it’s like you don’t know how to think anymore. I think my strength as a player is reading and reacting and thinking the game well, and that’s what I’m going to go out and do, is try and work on my reads, work on the positioning, my timing and all that, and holding that down and keep improving that every day so I can bring what I think I can bring to the table and be a good teammate so we can get going.”