Willie Mitchell will never be confused with Erik Karlsson, but in a discussion with the Kings’ defenseman at Monday’s morning skate, he indicated that he is looking to add an offensive element after having developed his legs following a year-long absence from the game due to a pair of knee surgeries.
“Out of the break, that’s kind of been my thing. I kind of wanted to bring more offensively, and I think maybe I’ve got my legs underneath me now, and finally I’m doing a little bit more offensively but without sacrificing what I do defensively,” said Mitchell, who has no goals four assists in 46 games.
“To be honest with you, my game wasn’t very good at the start of the year. I wasn’t happy with it. I think it was good for the first four or five games, but your adrenaline’s going, and then you kind of have a little bit of a lull there, and I wasn’t really happy with my game at all, so I was just focused on what I do well. That’s break pressure in the defensive zone for breakouts, and play good defense. I started to break pressure, and I feel like now I’m defending really well for the last 20 games or so, 25 games.”
While thinking of Mitchell as much more than a defensive stalwart and effective penalty killer may sound like a stretch – and it probably is – he is also a player who logged an occasional power play shift on the team’s second unit during 2011-12, with his last NHL goal coming on a power play blast in Game 1 of the 2012 playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks. This season, he has shown versatile numbers in his usage, having started 37.2% of his shifts in the offensive zone, the third highest rate on the team – and numbers perhaps lifted by his pairings with Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez.
“I’m not a guy who’s going to skate the puck all over the ice, but I know that I can really shoot it, and shoot it and put it to the net. I’ve tried to do that out of the break, and I have been getting a little bit more shots, just no action on it. So hopefully I can continue that. But power play – like I said, I did it the year we went [to the Stanley Cup], but I think it was more a reward from Darryl for shooting the puck and getting the puck to the net. If I shoot the puck and get the puck to the net and create stuff off of that, then maybe it happens again. Maybe not.”
As indicated by line rushes at the morning skate, it appears as though he’ll be skating with Drew Doughty tonight, which would revive a familiar pairing from his earlier days with the organization.
Mitchell, who says he’s “indifferent” towards the balance of placing a puck moving defenseman with a stay-at-home defenseman, isn’t concerned with who he skates with.
“You play with who you play with,” he said. “There are different pairs who do different things well, and the reality is that we rotate quite a bit with our defense here. We’re pretty comfortable playing with each other, and everyone’s kind of played with each other. I think the only person I haven’t played with it Muzz. It’s my first time playing with Dewey in a while. I’ve played with him on the penalty kill, but I haven’t played with him since my first year here, just the little bit we played together. I think [Darryl Sutter] usually sticks to that, anyways. Even though he’s shuffled it around a little bit, it’s usually the same. I’ve played with Slava, I play with Marty, I play with Dewey, whether it’s Reg, myself, I kind of switch around with those guys. I just go out and play.”
Mitchell, on the key to limiting Vancouver’s top end players in the attacking zone:
I know them quite well. Played with them for four years. I’ve been in the west for pretty much my whole career, so I tend to know good players like that. They’re going to make plays. It’s just that you’ve got to limit those plays as much as you can and deny them the puck first. That’s first and foremost, is not allow them to get the puck, and if they do, know when to pressure and when not because they’ll make a lot of guys pretty funny out there if you pressure too much. You know the puck’s always going to where you were. You’ve just got to be smart with them. I don’t know how many goals they have between the two of them in their career, but if you look at it, it’s probably no further than six, seven feet from the net every shot. You know that when you play against them, so if they’re outside of that area, you can tend to play the shooter a little bit more.
Mitchell, on avoiding penalty killing situations:
Yeah, it’s always nice when you’re not penalty killing all night. That’s what my role is, so I enjoy that challenge, but if we’re doing that the whole time it’s not good for the hockey club, because the reality is you need to score, as we all know, to win, and when your best players are expending all their energy defending – because penalty kill minutes are tough minutes. Power play minutes are easy minutes, you’re always touching the puck, you’re feeling good, plus stopping and starting, so you get your good players touching the puck all the time, they start to feel good about themselves, so it makes it harder if you’re taking penalties, because now you’re defending, and the other team’s best players are feeling good. If we can swing that where our best players are touching the puck all the time, whether it’s five-on-five, where we feel we’re really strong, or on the power play, well then we’re going to feel really good about our game and our best players are going to be our best players, and it’s going to be an easier game for us. The last little while, I think we’ve done a better job of that. We just haven’t capitalized on our challenges.