Mixed injury news clouds Kings’ fortunes

LOS ANGELES — Kings center Anze Kopitar, who sprained his knee in a game in Stockholm the day before the lockout ended, announced his readiness to return to the lineup after a spirited practice Monday morning at the team’s training facility in El Segundo.

The same can’t be said for defenseman Matt Greene, who may be out for the remainder of the season.

And although defenseman Willie Mitchell went through a full practice with his
teammates for the first time since aggravating a knee injury during
offseason training, an ominous development took place throughout the day
as the severity of Greene’s “middle-body injury” became more apparent.

TSN
reported Monday afternoon that Greene suffered a back injury against
Chicago on Saturday that will sideline him for the remainder of the
abbreviated season. He was placed on injured reserve as the Kings called
up defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk from Manchester of the AHL.

Speaking
of Greene’s play against Chicago prior to the reports that the
defenseman’s season may be lost due to injury, coach Darryl Sutter
offered a pointed observation.

“He was one of the guys that
played hard for us. So there’s a chance that he’s going to get banged
up,” Sutter said after practice.

Los Angeles’ blue line, rock
solid during the Stanley Cup run, is now dangerously thin in Mitchell’s
and Greene’s absences — though Mitchell will travel with the team on the
road trip.

Stay-at-home efforts will be provided by Rob Scuderi and the dynamic Drew Doughty, who will immediately need to assert himself in the team’s defensive focus. Whereas the playoff run highlighted the airtight balance of a Kings defense that paired a puck-moving offensive type with his stay-at-home counterweight, the balance has been heavily shifted with injuries to two prominent defensive stalwarts in Greene and Mitchell.

Mitchell, the senior member of the locker room, spoke on his excitement of rejoining his teammates at practice.

“As long as the lockout went, you get tired of working out, you get tired of riding the bike, you get tired doing all that training, and it’s like running a marathon. You hit that last mile in the home stretch there, and they keep extending the marathon for you, like there’s no end in sight,” he said. “Just to get out with the guys and skate and do a full practice is fun. That’s what we miss. That’s what we love to do,” he said.

Mitchell claimed that the next test will involve heavier battle drills with his teammates. He is not expected to play against Colorado on Tuesday, meaning Jake Muzzin will likely return to the Los Angeles lineup for the first time since the 2010-11 season, when he made the team out of training camp and registered one assist in 11 games.

Kopitar will step into the lineup when Los Angeles travels to
Colorado for the first game of a three-game trip that will also include
stops in Edmonton and Phoenix. He was activated on Tuesday.

The Kings sent Anthony Stewart to Manchester.

“I feel good. I feel pretty strong,” Kopitar said. “I understand it’s
going to be my first game in a while too, so I may be a little bit out
of the rhythm, but it’s not the time to think about that. It’s time to
try to get in and obviously help the team win.”

Kopitar and his teammates will face a challenge in Denver, where the high altitude could have a heightened effect on a team that will play its first road game only four days after the final of five practices to get ready for the season.

“For me, and I think most of the players, the first thing is not to get caught on the first shift, and not to get sucking wind right off the hop,” Kopitar said of playing in the Mile High City. “You just make sure you get into a game with good tempo and short shifts, and away you go.”

Sutter referenced cutting shifts short by “seven or eight seconds” while also offering a message for players expected to provide an offensive punch.

“Hopefully our first and second lines give us some quality minutes instead of just playing them. It was basically a waste of time the other night,” he said.

Sutter also looked to distance the 2013 Kings from the Cup-winning team of a year ago, once again eager to press the proverbial reset button.

“I’ve heard all the stuff about ‘bringing your own team back’ and all that sexy rah-rah, kumbaya, all that stuff, but the problem is we’re not the same team. We’re a different team.”