Despite receiving clearance to play, Willie Mitchell is waiting to regain his conditioning before returning.
By L.A. TIMESFS West
EDMONTON, Canada -- Kings Coach Darryl Sutter, the minister of bluntness, was at it again on this textbook winter day in Alberta.
With the Kings trying to avoid a 0-4 start, attention turned to the future availability of veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell. Mitchell had knee surgery during the lockout and is moving along.
Not fast enough, apparently.
"You know what, he's got doctor's clearance," Sutter said Wednesday. "He's got trainers' clearance. Coaches want him to clear himself.
"So do it."
That did not happen. Mitchell does things his way, an old-school defenseman with a new-age vibe. Reporters call it engaging. Bewildering might be another description for those trying to get him back in action.
He has made the mistake of coming back prematurely.
"I'm just trying to get my conditioning," Mitchell said after practice. "I skated really hard yesterday, really hard. Today was another good day."
"It swells up a little bit but goes back down. I think that's probably how it's going to be the rest of the year. I don't want to get out there and be a liability to my defense partner, to my teammates, to my coach. When I come back I don't want to come back, play the next couple of games and then it swells up and be out."
The absence of Mitchell and another defensive cog, Matt Greene, who had back surgery Thursday, has meant big ice time for the likes of defenseman Drew Doughty, who played nearly 30 minutes against Colorado in the Kings' loss Tuesday.
"I would love to play 28 to 30 [minutes] every night if I could," Doughty said.
Said Mitchell: "I know he likes to play lots of minutes and he played great. We're going to need that from him the next little bit. But I think that catches up with teams. I don't think you can have guys logging huge amounts of minutes for long periods of time because you can end up getting run down a little bit and you can get injuries."
The most consistent offensive threat in two games has been fourth-liner
Kyle Clifford, who has three points. Sutter tinkered at practice a bit, moving up Clifford on a line with center Mike Richards and forward Jeff Carter. But he indicated that Clifford has been working efficiently with center Colin Fraser so far.
Production from the left side has been a long-standing issue since Sutter arrived last season.
"Left wing for us every day since I've been here has been an ongoing thing," Sutter said. "Literally every day since December, whenever I came."
Now the Kings are waiting for the top two lines to get going but there isn't the luxury of patience in the lockout-shortened season.
"It's one of the things with the 48-game schedule," Sutter said. "It's not about what you did or you might do. It's what you're doing. That's a fact."
Sutter praised Chicago's Jonathan Toews and Colorado's Matt Duchene, who had an assist and was plus-two against the Kings on Tuesday.
"If you look at the game we played last night, Duchene kicked our two center men's [butts]," Sutter said. "When he had to — he did."