The Willie Mitchell – Matt Greene Domino Effect on Defense and Offense

Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene are the bookends of our defense. Two defensive defensemen, one in the top pairing (with Voynov) and the other at the bottom (with Martinez, who is now also on IR).

But what about their impact on the team? From D through the neutral zone to O.

Willie Mitchell clears the front of the net. Matt Greene guards the crease with his size and strength. Their absence = rebounds on opposing forwards’ sticks.

Mitchell and Greene, while not necessarily “leading” the breakouts, do play a critical role in puck recovery in the defensive zone. Being in the position to dig the puck out and get it to Voynov or Martinez starts our breakouts. Without them, pucks stay in our zone longer, which leads to turnovers or the line spending more time playing defense. Their absence = longer defensive zone play and less effective breakouts.

The compromised breakouts adversely affect neutral zone play. Rather than turn and enter the neutral zone with speed with 1-2 passes, the puck ends up in skates and along the boards. That is why our neutral zone play looks sloppy and disorganized. This gives opposing forwards the ability to close the “gap” on us faster and more effectively, essentially keeping us from forcing them to play defense. This, in turn, places far more pressure on our forwards to stay back. Our centers’ ability to make plays and our wingers’ option to attack the blue line is affected. Their absence = less speed and offensive attack through the neutral zone.

The mess in the neutral zone means poor offensive zone entry. Darryl Sutter brought an aggressive forechecking style with him but the forecheck starts before you ever cross the blue line. What happens when an F2 and F3 are moving at half speed across the blue line? They don’t get to the puck as fast. When they don’t, you have an F1 that does without the benefit of supporting players to dig out the puck and take control. Even if the F1 gets to the puck first, to whom does he pass? The opposing team’s defense outnumbers our first forechecker. Without the puck in the neutral zone, our offense doesn’t get started with total puck control like we saw last season. Their absence = less aggressive forecheck.

The forecheck problem causes three other issues – first, our F2 and F3 have to work harder to recover the puck. Second, our defense cannot pinch as aggressively as they may want (without Mitchell and Greene, Voynov and Martinez have far less freedom to do so). Third, especially against a good defensive team with speed, a lot of  time is spent along the boards. Remember that you are also dealing with a more tired line because of the additional and overall more time playing D on the other end. Impressively, the Kings have still managed to spend quality time in the opposing offensive zone. The problem has however been not getting the puck to those high percentage scoring areas. Their absence = lack of quality scoring chances.

Of course, the powerplay and penalty kill are impacted in the same way – the powerplay less so because the extra man gives us better breakouts and zone entry and the penalty kill far more so because puck recovery, clearing rebounds and breaking the puck out to a free forward for the clear can feel forced and often is.



Neutral zone speed.

Offensive zone entry.

Puck recovery and possession.


Categories: L.A. Kings News

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19 replies

  1. Very true, this can also go under your Hockey 2.0 guides. Any thoughts on why Doughty’s been invisible lately?

    • Conditioning. It’s better than what is used to be, but still not at top flight level. He’s where Kopi was about 3 years ago in this department, starting to figure it out but with another level to go.

      • Little to do with it, IMO. I see few if any issues with his skating and speed, nor endurance.

        • It’s certainly not the only issue, but its one thing holding him back from domination.

          In fact, if you are going to yammer on about Mitchell and Greene, Mitchell’s loss affects Doughty directly as much as it affects the team at large.

          • I guess the better way to put it, he’s not in Carter’s shape. Doughty isn’t dogging it out there but nor is he flying at 100% for his whole shifts.

          • I agree with Surly here only because Doughty is getting close to 30 mins. TOI. If we had Mitchell and Greene back and doughty was skating closer to 20, he would be closer to carter but the higher demand has him playing a more conservative role at the blue line and not playing as offensive as we are used to. hopefully the edition of Ellerby will free him up some more.

    • Actually I did a Q and A with a Blackhawks blogger today and I answered that question. When that is up tomorrow, I will share it.

    • Any thoughts on why Doughty’s been invisible lately?

      … If you actually think this, you need to watch the games a lot more attentively.

  2. The team is finally starting to gel and play well without them and correct all these issues on their own terms. Shut your hole.

    Mitchell and Greene are wanted, desperately. They are, however, not needed.

    • The team is finally starting to gel and play well without them

      … They’ve been playing well all season long up to this point, with rare exception. It’s been pointed out more than once here that goaltending and luck have done in the Kings more than anything else.

      • True but their breakouts, regroups and neutral zone play were pretty damn disjointed before the Detroit game.

        • … Yes. The Nashville game on the 7th was the only time where I really felt the Kings were outplayed, despite the shot count being 32-14 in favor of L.A. The Predators had about five scoring chances in the first ten minutes, built up a comfortable lead, and were content to sag and give up shots outside the scoring chance area for the rest of the game.

          In every other game this season, I’ve felt the Kings have outplayed or matched their competition.

  3. Doughty isn’t the problem, in fact, his situation has grown even more difficult given the absence of Green and Mitchell, but moreso the absence of Mitchell increases Doughty’s ice time against the best competition. Mitchell, last season, Besides facing mostly top lines was also the Kings’ number one penalty killer and his absence puts even more pressure on the PK, including Doughty.

    Also, the Kings definitely miss the occasional Greene-Mitchell shutdown pairing that enabled them to hold off opponents in crucial moments.

    Their absence is huge. Great article, Bobby.

    • No, doughty isn’t the problem, but this article, while insightful, is spilt milk. Also, the whole “dominoes” thing insinuates its just gonna get worse, so while he is right in his assessment of what those two contribute, I also call bullshit. Kings are adjusting to their loss, Ellerby will find his stride with the team and one of Muzzin/Campbell/Deslaurier if it comes to that will step up. Forwards will make up for part of the defensive loss too. It won’t be exactly the same, but the Kings will still be a consistently dominant team in about 3 weeks time. Book it,

      • “Dominoes thing insinuates its just gonna get worse”

        No it doesn’t. It doesn’t insinuate anything. If we had Weber and Suter back there right now, nothing in this article changes because it addresses what Mitchell and Greene’s absence cause. It never intended to address solutions (that is another article), those in effect or that may be implemented in the future (read: trade)

      • ‘Kings are adjusting to their loss’
        1) Very good article Bobby.
        2) Surly, I don’t agree with you on the above quote. Willie Mitchell was a seasoned pro and is clearly top flight. With his absence we’re now dealing with Muzzin. I have no comment on Muzzin because I haven’t seen him play enough yet. I think the team can deal with the loss of either Greene or WM, but the two together is really a lot to ask.
        While DS does try and put the 5-6 guys out against weaker opposition, it’s still a big ask and as was pointed out here, missing WM (or Greene…not to mention both of them) has a definite knock on affect as to the minutes and situations demanded of DD etc.

        We’ll see how Ellerby holds up playing the likes of Chicago or even the up and down SJ with Thornton, Marleau and Couture etc.


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