EL SEGUNDO, CA — Heading into Thursday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres (7:30 PM PDT, Staples Center), the Los Angeles Kings got some much-needed good news, that defenseman Jake Muzzin had been cleared to play by doctors after being examined on October 21.
Muzzin, who has not played yet this season, was suffering from an upper body injury.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “I’m good to go. I got cleared, and I’m excited for tomorrow night. It’s not 100 percent, but it’s good to go.”
Muzzin noted that it if a player is going to suffer an injury during a season, the earlier, the better.
“[Injuries are] part of the game,” said Muzzin. “You’ve got to deal with it the proper way. It could have been a lot worse if we rushed it. I could’ve been out a lot longer. So you deal with it the proper way here—miss a couple of games early. We’ve got a lot [the] season left, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Wednesday’s practice was a spirited one, with some battle drills thrown in.
“Today was a good day,” Muzzin noted. “We did a lot of battles. I got some contact, some pushing. It felt good.”
“[The injury] didn’t affect my skating or being able to [maintain his conditioning],” Muzzin added. “It is different, though, going from just practice to game tempo, game battles and game situations. But we’ll look to get into it tomorrow night, go from there and see how I feel.”
Now in his third full season in the NHL, after a tremendous end of the 2013-14 regular season and playoffs, and with a Stanley Cup ring on his finger, Muzzin knows that he still has a lot more to do.
“There’s a lot of leaders here, a lot of experience,” he said. “I’m looking to improve my game and help the team as much as I can, whether it be on or off the ice. I look to get better every year, and I want to get better and help the team win championships.”
Veteran blue liner Matt Greene made note of Muzzin’s increased role.
“It’ll be great [to have him back in the lineup],” said Greene. “He’s a big-time player for us, especially on the back end. He plays a of of minutes, he plays with [defenseman Drew Doughty]. They had a good pair going at the end of last year, and during pre-season. We just hope they pick up where they left off.”
For his part, head coach Darryl Sutter had little to say about Muzzin’s return.
“Basically we’re replacing a skilled right-hander with a skilled left-hander in the big picture, when you look at it,” he said.
Muzzin is expected to return to his left defenseman position alongside Doughty tonight, and if Wednesday’s defensemen pairs in practice are any indication, Robyn Regher will play with Alec Martinez, who will move to the right defenseman spot, and rookie Brayden McNabb will play with Greene.
Even though he did not mention them, specifically, Sutter confirmed the defensive pairs.
“We moved him with Greene because Jake is more comfortable with Drew than Brayden would be, and as you go deeper into the season, it’s not training camp when you’re just rolling four lines, especially when you’re playing higher powered teams,” said Sutter. “Sometimes you don’t want to expose players. You want to take advantage of what they have. It’s not so much ‘who he’s more comfortable with’ now. Those are our six defensemen, and we have the flexibility of Marty being able to play the right side. I think that we like Muzzin with Doughty, and that’s that.”
Greene talked about the new pairings.
“I played with Brayden for one game during the pre-season,” Greene noted. “I thought it went really well. He’s a good player, moves the puck well. Smart player, so that’s fine. Marty’s been playing the right side for the last couple of years, and Reggie plays well with everybody.”
“I think Marty and Reggie played together a lot last year,” Greene added. “I’ve gotten a lot of reps with Brayden, so it’s up to everybody to do their job.”
McNabb said that he does not expect much to change for him, despite switching defensive partners.
“I don’t think [anything changes],” he said. “Greener is a good veteran, and he’s big talker out there, so whenever you communicate, it makes things easier out there on the ice, so I’m looking forward to it. I know what I’m going to get from him, so that’s always nice.”
“I don’t think it changes very much,” he added. “I just have to continue to try and get better, make my level of play go up, and help this team win.”
Even though he will now be paired with a much more stay-at-home defenseman, McNabb is not likely to be more aggressive up ice.
“I’ve got to work on defense first,” McNabb stressed. “I’ve got to get that nailed down pat. Once that happens, the offense will come in soon enough. But if I have a chance in the offensive zone, I’m going to take it. It’s not like I’m staying out of the offense.”
Along those lines, McNabb is still making the transition, not only from the American Hockey League to the National Hockey League, but also from a franchise, the Eastern Conference’s Sabres (more on that later) to the Western Conference, not to mention an entirely different system.
McNabb said that the adjustment to the Western Conference has not been easy.
“It’s a big, heavy conference, and just getting up to speed as an NHL caliber [player] through camp and the first few games [have been my biggest challenges],” he noted. “But as the games go on, I’ve been feeling a little more comfortable. [There’s been] a couple of hiccups here and there, but I know that’ll all iron itself out.”
Greene indicated that McNabb is adjusting well.
“He looks good,” said Greene. “It’s tough to come into a new system, play right away, play with Drew and against some top guys. He’s done an awesome job and he’s helped us start off to a good record. We look forward to him keep doing what he’s doing for the rest of the season.”
“I think he’s been really good for us in the pre-season and now, I think he’s getting better every game,” added Greene. “It’s not an easy job that he was doing for us in the first five or six games, playing against the other team’s top lines, but he’s been doing a great job of it, moving the puck with Dewy. I think he’s been adjusting to him well. It’s a lot to take in, coming from a different system, different players. To transition as seamlessly as he has, it’s real good job on his part. He’s doing really well, playing really well for us and being really good in the room for us, too.”
Greene has observed McNabb’s growing comfort level on the ice.
“You can tell if a guy gets a little more comfortable on the ice, and around his teammates,” Greene noted. “That’s when you settle down a bit. I think he’s done a good job of that. You see when a guy adjusts, like Tanner [Pearson], Tyler [Toffoli] and Andy [Andreoff]. Once they get more comfortable, they start making plays, settling down a little bit.”
“That’s the sign of a player, turning into his own game when [he] gets that comfort level going and start making some smoother plays,” Greene added.
As reported earlier, McNabb will be facing his old team tonight, the Sabres, a game he has been looking forward to for quite some time.
“It’ll be different,” he said. “I know the vast majority of them, so it’ll be pretty cool.”
“When I saw that this one was going to be early in the season, I wanted to be in for it, and it’s here,” he added. “I’m excited. There’s a lot of guys I played with over there. It’ll be pretty cool.”
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