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Williams' Shoulder Progressing

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
SAN JOSE -- It's not the most comfortable situation, or the one Justin Williams would have chosen a couple weeks ago, but all things considered, Williams is pleased.

Just two weeks after he suffered a dislocated shoulder in a game against Calgary, Williams is back on the ice, skating and shooting pucks, perhaps slightly increasing the likelihood that he might be able to return during a potential first-round playoff series.

Initial estimates had Williams missing at least four weeks, which would have him in line for an April 18 return -- possibly late in the first round -- but Williams surprised onlookers (and coach Terry Murray) went he skated onto the ice late in Sunday's practice.

``I've got to keep getting strong, keep getting used to it,'' Williams said Sunday. ``The main part is just being comfortable on the ice and not thinking about it, so this is a good step today, in the right direction. I'm going to get used to it out there, and used to what I can or can't do, so when I get out there I don't think about it.''

Williams skated again Monday in El Segundo and was later scheduled to undergo a strength test on his shoulder to gauge the progress of his recovery. It's not yet known whether Williams is ahead of schedule, but the fact that he is able to skate and handle and shoot pucks, after only two weeks, is seen as a highly positive sign.

Justin Williams battles against Ryan Suter of the Predators in March.  The Kings could face Nashville in the first round of the playoffs, and Williams could be ready to return.
``I don't think he's ahead of schedule, necessarily,'' Murray said. ``It's a shoulder, it's not anything else. It's the upper body, rather than the legs, so keeping his feet under himself, as far as the skating, that's a good thing. I see he was shooting a few pucks out there, so obviously the progression is coming. But it's a couple weeks, only, so there's more time in front of it.''

Williams' shoulder must be at 80-percent strength before he can be cleared to play, and even in a best-case scenario, Williams' shoulder might require offseason surgery.

For now, Williams will attempt to practice, and eventually play, with a vest-like harness that is designed to protect his shoulder from further damage.

``I'm not really a huge fan of it, but it's doing its purpose,'' Williams said. ``You've got to do what you've got to do. My RoboCop. It's all right. It restricts me, obviously, a little bit, but it's just day one. It feels great. I've been out a shade under two weeks, so it feels good to get back out there. I feel I didn't lose any of my stamina or anything, so I felt good. I've just got to get used to it in the next few days.''

If the Kings beat San Jose tonight, they will clinch a playoff spot for a second consecutive season. In the short term, Murray doesn't seem particularly concerned about the details. With only four games remaining in the regular season, Murray indicated that he's more concerned with how the Kings are playing, as opposed to their playoff positioning.

``I just feel, as a team, that you've got to keep playing the games the right way, playing hard and trying to put as many points on the board as you possibly can,'' Murray said. ``And even if you do have a position clinched, my philosophy is that I'm not going to back off on how I'm going to use the players. I'm not going to take anybody out of the lineup to rest them. If you do anything at all, you might just back off a few minutes, in minutes played over the course of the game.

``When you get to this late in the year, I think you would like to just keep going. You've got to keep your attitude, your focus and play as if you are getting ready for the playoffs, which would start in a couple days.''

The Kings' ``magic number'' for clinching a playoff spot is two, meaning that any Kings win or any loss by the Dallas Stars will clinch at least eighth place for the Kings.

Willie Mitchell battles for a loose puck with former teammate Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks.  Mitchell suffered a concussion in Vancouver last season.
Willie Mitchell has been selected as the Kings' nominee for the Masterton Trophy by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. The Masterton Trophy is annually awarded to a player who exhibits ``qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey,'' and is named for the late Bill Masterton, who died as a result of an on-ice injury while playing for the Minnesota North Stars in 1968.

One nominee is selected per NHL team, and then a winner is selected through a vote by national hockey writers. In nominating Mitchell, the Los Angeles chapter of the PHWA cited his comeback from a concussion that cost him half of last session, his strong on-ice play and leadership and his willingness and effectiveness in speaking out about concussion-related issues.

``It's an honor,'' Mitchell said. ``I know what it's probably for, is the long road to get back to doing what I do. Everyone knows that it was eight, nine months out of the game of hockey. It's not an easy thing to do. When you're going throughout, you wonder if you're going to get a chance to do it again. I'm just fortunate.

``I'm thankful that I'm in the situation I'm in now, where I get to play the game I love to play. I have my health. That's No. 1, and I just appreciate the game so much more after going through all that. You don't appreciate those things until it's taken away in a hurry. I'm happy to be back and happy to be contributing to our team. It's an honor.''

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