In the bigger picture, the story remains the same: Willie Mitchell’s health situation still earns wild card/“x-factor” labels.
Still, if NHL.com’s latest story on the 36-year-old defenseman is any indication, Mitchell and the Los Angeles Kings no longer seem to need counseling to cope with his complicated rehab from knee issues. More specifically, GM Dean Lombardi claims that “Mitchell’s attitude has changed to enthusiastic as his progress has improved.”
Lombardi had nothing but praise for the defensive stalwart, at least when he can get on the ice.
“When he is out there, and I don’t think I’m out of line, I think he’s one of the top-five most underrated players in the League,” Lombardi said. “I think you’ve really got to know the game to appreciate him. We all appreciated him when we had him, but, boy, there are subtleties in his game that you see night in and night out. It’s his stick and his positioning. He’s probably one of the top penalty killers in the League.”
Even without Mitchell in the fold, the Kings’ defense is stacked with players, so the addition of such a key presence could make their blueline corps downright crowded.
Lombardi can think of far more troubling scenarios than having too many NHL defensemen.
“I guess we’re deep, particularly if Willie is healthy; but to me they’re like good pitchers, I don’t think you can have enough of them,” Lombardi said. “I’ll deal with this a whole lot better than I would with a shortage. It’s a good problem to have.”
Still, it remains to be seen if Mitchell can actually become a fixture once again.
Talk about getting thrown into the fire.
Antti Niemi is expected to be the starting goalie tonight in Dallas when his Stars host Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Niemi has, not surprisingly, been given the assignment over Kari Lehtonen, the latter of whom struggled badly during the preseason, allowing 15 goals on 84 shots.
Not that Niemi was razor sharp himself. He allowed eight goals on 65 shots, for a save percentage of .877.
Considering the Stars have a combined $10.4 million in cap space tied up in those two veteran netminders, it’s no wonder the number-one question facing the club is whether the goaltending has indeed been fixed.
We’ll start to find out tonight.
Marc-Andre Fleury will undoubtedly be in goal for Pittsburgh, though that hasn’t been confirmed.
— Craig Anderson, the goalie the Senators decided to keep, versus Robin Lehner, the one they traded to the Sabres.
— Cam Ward will start for Carolina when the Hurricanes visit the Predators, who will obviously go with Pekka Rinne. The consensus is that Eddie Lack will eventually supplant Ward as Carolina’s starter, but that apparently hasn’t happened yet.
— Brian Elliott goes for the Blues versus Cam Talbot for the Oilers. Elliott was excellent in the preseason, stopping all but two of the 57 shots he faced, while Jake Allen allowed six goals on 60 shots.
— Steve Mason for the Flyers versus Ben Bishop for the Lightning.
— Ondrej Pavelec for Winnipeg versus Tuukka Rask for Boston.
— Devan Dubnyk likely for the Wild versus Semyon Varlamov for the Avs.
Jakub Voracek totally understands why nobody’s expecting much from the Philadelphia Flyers. When a team finishes 14 points out of the playoffs the year before, that’s typically going to be the case.
“We weren’t good enough last year, let’s face it,” Voracek told CSN Philly.
So, no, it doesn’t upset him that the Flyers aren’t considered among the Stanley Cup favorites.
That being said, “it makes you feel you want to prove them wrong.”
The Flyers get going tonight with a tough game against the Lightning in Tampa Bay. They also play Saturday in Florida against the Panthers, before a rematch with the Panthers Monday in Philadelphia.
“My biggest concern would be getting off to a good start,” GM Ron Hextall said. “That’s one thing that we need to do.”
That’s something they didn’t do last year. In fact, they won just once in their first six games. By the end of November, they were 8-12-3 and in a big hole — one that proved too deep to climb out of.
Related: Flyers to start season with seven defensemen