From the start of the season, Kyle Clifford impressed with his energy and willingness to learn and improve. Clifford’s on-ice comfort level has seemed to rise by the week, and it’s showing itself in the statistics as well. Clifford seems to have settled into a third-line role with center Michal Handzus and right winger Wayne Simmonds, and after not recording a point in his first 19 NHL games, Clifford has five points (two goals, three assists) in his last nine games. Of course, the Handzus line has long been considered the Kings’ defensive “stopper” line, so I asked Clifford today about that balance, the balance between remaining defensively responsible and taking advantage of offensive opportunities as well…
CLIFFORD: “Definitely you want to take care of your own end, no matter what line you’re on. That’s important. All four lines have to be defensively responsible, and when the opportunity is there, you just have to pounce on them. You can’t cheat or try to get out of your zone too quick. You have to take care of your own end, and help our D out in breaking pucks out. If we’re defensively responsible, it’s going to be easier offensively too. If we’re not trying to push on offense, we can all come up as a group together and make things a little easier.”
Question: In the last 10 games or so, have you felt more comfortable handling the puck and doing things with it?
CLIFFORD: “A big part of it is just learning the game at this level. The more I play, the more I start to learn, and handling the puck comes with that. I can have a little more patience and a little more poise, and you know what plays are there. You can have a little more chemistry with the guys you’re playing with. Especially with Zeus and Simmer, we all kind of hunt pucks down and we all support each other. So it’s pretty simple there.”
Question: A lot of young guys have said he good it is to play with Handzus. What does he do for you out there?
CLIFFORD: “Zeus is like an extra coach out there. He’s so responsible. He always wants to be the high guy or the tracker going back. Even on the bench, if you make a mistake he will be the first to point it out. The way he approaches it, he teaches you. He doesn’t get mad at you. He’s a great team guy. So I’ve got lots of good things to say about those two guys on that line.”