You probably already know the crappy part.
Willie Mitchell has a fractured wrist. Not expected back until early-mid December.
Alexei Ponikarovsky broke a finger. Don’t plan on seeing him in a game until early December either.
Well this sucks.
Losing Ponikarovsky hurts the overall team speed and size. Losing Mitchell screws up the top pairing.
Both are big parts of the Kings’ dominant penalty kill and this is where we will feel their loss the most. Offensively, the Kings are no worse for wear, although Mitchell was our top goal scoring defenseman this season with a whopping single goal). Defensively, our shot blocking ability took a huge blow.
Before I start to sob quietly into the small wounds I gash into my skin with the nearest protractor, lets get to the intriguing questions and attempt to save this gloomy Monday.
First question: Who bumps up to the top pairing?
Does Murray break up the Johnson-Scuderi pairing? I don’t think so.
That leaves Davis Drewiske or Matt Greene. When Mitchell left the game against Nashville, Drewiske saw the ice time with Doughty. So you could say he is the front runner, but will Murray really trust Whiskey with 20+ minutes regularly? I don’t think so.
Greene? This is the most likely option.
Now assuming Johnson-Scuderi remains a pair, what happens to the bottom pairing? Certainly we will see a defenseman called up soon. Conventional wisdom would say that Jake Muzzin will be back with the Kings before Thursday’s game against Dallas. However I believe this depends on whether Murray plans on playing the call-up more often or if Peter Harrold now has the next month on the bottom pairing locked down pending a consistent performance. If Harrold is going to play in Mitchell’s stead, does Lombardi want Muzzin in the press box for a month? Probably not, but that said, I feel positive saying that the Kings will not purposefully go into any game days with only 6 six defenseman on the roster.
Next question. Who replaces Ponikarovsky?
I see two main options. Kyle Clifford or Brad Richardson.
You might immediately think “Clifford!” and leave it at that.
However bumping Richardson up to the LW3 allows Trevor Lewis or Brayden Schenn to anchor the 4th line on a regular basis and keeps Clifford in the spot where the Kings want him. I guess Schenn and Lewis (or a call-up) are options for Handzus’ left side, but I doubt we see that for anything more than a quick experimentation. Also, I doubt we see a forward called up at all unless Schenn or Clifford go back to juniors. This decision will also be made by Saturday, if not sooner.
Which brings us to the final question, one that will solidify that lineup card page as the bane of my existence.
How crazy will Murray go?
These injuries open up the possibility for Murray to change the lines for lord knows how long until he finds something he likes. Perhaps he will make changes for Thursday and stick with them for a while. However I find it much more likely that the third and fourth lines will have different looks from night to night.
The most important thing to come out of these injuries is an opportunity. Not for any one player, but for the team.
Good teams deal with injuries. Great teams don’t let injuries slow them down.
The next month will truly test the mettle of this Kings team.
By Christmas, we will know whether they are for real, or if I’m going to bleed out from death by a thousand cuts.