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Welcome Back Willie

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
DETROIT -- Willie Mitchell will be wearing a new piece of equipment and playing on a different side of the ice. Otherwise, Mitchell hopes everything will be status quo.

Mitchell, who missed 14 games with a broken wrist, will be back in the lineup tonight when the Kings play the Detroit Red Wings. Mitchell had been one of the Kings' strongest-performing defensemen at the time of his injury, a solid, stay-at-home type.

The only nod to Mitchell's injury, which he suffered on Nov. 6, will be a small wrist guard, similar to what offensive linemen wear in football. Mitchell said the protection is more mental than physical and won't restrict anything he does on the ice.

The Kings will pair Mitchell with Jack Johnson, leaving intact the pairs of Rob Scuderi and Drew Doughty, and Alec Martinez and Matt Greene. Mitchell traditionally plays on the left side, but the Kings prefer Johnson on the left for offensive purposes.

That's fine with Mitchell who, after more than a month away, just wants to play again.

``(The wrist pain) is bearable now, and it's time to get going,'' Mitchell said.
``Hopefully I can just slide back in and find my game, the way I was playing, because I was starting to feel like I was starting to fit in, with my game, with the team. So I'll just slide back in and try to do the things I can do to help the team.''

Mitchell had been participating in full-team practices since Wednesday, inching toward a return every day, and had been cleared for contact on Thursday.

For the past few days, Murray had clearly seemed to be pointing toward a return for Mitchell against the Red Wings, and fortunately, Mitchell suffered no setbacks.

``The last couple days, I've started to take slap shots and one-timers and stuff like that,'' Mitchell said. ``There's still some pain there, but it's bearable.
Before it was kind of like putting your hand on a hot burner. But now it's bearable.''


Murray will tweak the Kings' lineup a bit tonight. Oscar Moller will start out as the second-line right winger, alongside Ryan Smyth and Jarret Stoll. In Saturday's game, Moller alternated between that spot and a role as the fourth-line center.

Trevor Lewis will center the fourth line, between Kyle Clifford and John Zeiler, and the other two lines will remain the same. The healthy scratches will be defensemen Davis Drewiske and Peter Harrold and forward Kevin Westgarth.

Brad Richardson, who sustained an undisclosed upper-body injury last week, did not accompany the Kings to Detroit and was scheduled for another medical evaluation sometime Monday, Murray said.


Marco Sturm, conditionally acquired by the Kings on Saturday -- pending the results of a physical -- is scheduled to join the team on Tuesday in St. Louis if all goes well.

Sturm would wear No. 10 with the Kings, although it remains uncertain as to when he will be available to play. Sturm is in the final stages of recovering from May knee surgery. General manager Dean Lombardi said it was conceivable that Sturm would be available to play before Dec. 25.


Detroit coach Mike Babcock had no problem handing out praise for an opponent.
Asked about Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, Babcock couldn't say enough.

Babcock coached Doughty in February, when Canada won the gold medal, and clearly came away impressed with what he saw during that tournament.

``He's just better and smarter than everybody else,'' Babcock said. ``He's just been touched by God and been given a gift and he seems to like hockey. What I like about him is, when he creates offense it's not foolish. He's not a risk-taker; he's a game-breaker.

``He waits for the right times and he can play against the best people defensively, and he can play a ton of minutes. And he's got a big, heavy (butt).
So he can box people out and play the game.''


The Kings enter tonight's game with only two goals on their last 22 power-play chances and have dropped to 27th in the NHL in power-play efficiency.

That's surprising, given that the Kings finished seventh in the league last season with essentially the same personnel. Murray said the key is getting back to basics.

``The power play, to me, can become very complicated,'' Murray said, ``and you can over-think it or you can get back to the focal points that work on a consistent basis. I look at Detroit, probably the top team in the league over the last 15 years, and their power play has not changed too much. It's Rafalski and Lidstrom at the blue line, and it's, `Let's get to the puck on Lidstrom's stick and shoot through traffic.'

``There doesn't need to be a lot of thinking in that. It's instinctive play, and that's what we need. Get ti to Doughty, Johnson and Stoll and get it to the net.''
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