January 11, 2014 1:09 pm

Jake Muzzin’s “baptism by fire”

There was interesting analysis of Jake Muzzin’s game in a recent NHL.com Over the Boards column by Dan Rosen in which Dean Lombardi referenced Ray Bourque and Tom Brady in highlighting how the defenseman is growing into a National Hockey League career.

“Tom Brady will throw an interception, but he can’t be afraid to throw the next one,” Lombardi told Rosen. “It’s the same thing with these defenseman when you’re breaking them in, particularly one who is going to be required to make plays. It’s not only getting him to get better in terms of keeping his gaps, making his reads, making his plays, but when he turns the puck over, get that short-term memory in a hurry. A lot of them don’t have that.”

“Last year, you saw in the playoffs if he made a bad play, boy, it just killed him. I think he’s certainly getting better at that. Drew Doughty is a great example. When Drew turns it over, his first thought is, ‘Give me the thing back.’ That’s a special player, but the mindset for all your players needs to be there, and I think [Muzzin] is getting better at that.”

Muzzin, who will appear in his 97th career NHL game tonight, is developing thicker skin.

“You know, mistakes are going to happen, and I think it’s just understanding that you are going to make a mistake, and you can’t let it affect the rest of your game, because you play 60 minutes,” he told LA Kings Insider following the morning skate on Saturday. “You don’t play for that one particular minute, or that shift where you [mess] up, you know? I guess it’s like maybe last year, it’s because I was a little nervous, maybe, like if I made too many mistakes I’d be sent down or something, you know what I mean? But now that I have a two-year deal, I feel a little more comfortable. Playing more games, you just gain experience and you learn to look past the mistake that you make.”

Muzzin has two goals and 14 points through 40 games played this year, and if goal statistics tend to progress or regress to the mean, then there could be some second half untapped production waiting around the corner. His two goals have come on 92 shots on goal, which equates to a 2.2% shooting percentage. Last year he scored seven times on 77 shots for a 9.1% shooting percentage.

It’s part of developing the consistencies of players who navigate long NHL careers, and according to Darryl Sutter, there’s still a ways to go.

“He’s still very inconsistent in his game – his five-on-five play – because of his experience. We’re having to do a baptism by fire,” Sutter said. “I’m not playing him on the third pair. When you look at his minutes, when he’s not playing in a significant five-on-five, even strength minute, that means he’s having a problem with his game. We’re going through that with five or six guys here, and they’re young guys with not much experience, quite honest. You let ‘em make those mistakes, and your team struggles, or you don’t play ‘em in situations. It’s kind of what we do.”

So is there any discernible step in Muzzin’s maturation, in the eyes of Sutter?

“No, we sit him on the bench. How he handles that, I don’t know. Is his ass warm, or is his ass cold? I don’t know. It really doesn’t matter to me, quite honest,” he said. “I don’t like not playing guys like Jordy and all that, but those [defensemen] get to play because there’s only seven of ‘em. They get to play. They get to dress, so they better perform while they are. I’m not into coveting because some day they’ll be a good player. I’m into now, as well as they should be.”

While developing his consistency, Muzzin is in the process of fine tuning the intangibles that he hopes will lead him to a long and productive NHL career. As Sutter noted in his “baptism by fire” reference, it’s a work in progress.

“I don’t feel like a veteran this year at all,” he said. “I’m still trying to prove myself, and prove to management and coaches that I want to be here a long time and play a major role for a long time, and that’s what I’m trying to do every day.”

Noah Graham / National Hockey League

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