Willie Mitchell knows something about what it takes to make the playoffs. He’s done it five times in the past eight seasons, with four three different teams (Minnesota, Dallas, Vancouver and the Kings), so Mitchell has seen the full spectrum. This has been a hard-to-figure season for the Kings, who are actually ahead of last season’s 50-game pace but give off the distinct scent of underachievement. They are only two points behind Pacific Division leader San Jose, but the Sharks (who host Columbus tonight) have three games in hand over the Kings. I asked Mitchell about his feeling about the Kings going into the final 32 games, and the idea that there might be room for improvement. Mitchell said he has not let San Jose out of his sights just yet.
MITCHELL: “It’s a different year. There are different challenges and different things for the team. I think the team has really enjoyed playing for Darryl (Sutter), really enjoyed his passion. You can see that in our game. It’s a much more passionate game out there, for the team as a whole. We still — at least I do, and I can’t speak for everyone else — but I have my sights set on San Jose. That should be our yardstick, is trying to catch them. Look ahead, and try to catch them. You never know, right? We had a little slump during the year. They could have a little hiccup. Teams usually do, during the course of the season. That should be our big-picture focus. Then in the short term, on game days, it’s doing what we need to do to focus on the next team we’re playing. If we do that, the next thing you know, you’re where you want to be. That’s where we’re going to be putting all our energies during the haul here, because we’ve got a lot of games on the road as well.’’
Question: Is it accurate to say that the games feel a little more important at this time of the season?
MITCHELL: “For sure. I find, from having done this a few times, it just seems like time flies by really quickly. The games end up being — not that they aren’t all important, because game 1 is as important as game 82 — but it just seems to get magnified at this time of year, just because everyone is so close in the standings and fighting for a playoff spot. It’s going to be a big, hard pull for us. Much like anyone else, you just try to stay in it and jockey for position. We feel good, that we’re playing pretty well. We have another gear yet, I think, as a group, but we’re excited just to go forward and prepare for the next one here.’’