The news out of the Kings’ skate at Joe Louis Arena — other than learning that Detroit Coach Mike Babcock believes Kings defenseman Drew Doughty has “just been touched by God,” is that defenseman Willie Mitchell will play Monday against Detroit, his first game since he fractured his left hand on Nov. 6.
Mitchell has been practicing with the team for a while and ramped up his intensity the last few days. He will play the right side — which he did on a limited basis while with Vancouver — and Jack Johnson will be on the left. The other pairs will be Rob Scuderi-Doughty and Michigan natives Alec Martinez (Rochester Hills) and Matt Greene (Grand Ledge). Johnson attended the University of Michigan and spends summers in Ann Arbor.
The fourth line will be Kyle Clifford with Trevor Lewis and John Zeiler. Oscar Moller will move up to play with Jarret Stoll and Ryan Smyth.
Coach Terry Murray said Marco Sturm, acquired from Boston on Saturday contingent on passing a physical, is scheduled to join the team in St. Louis but likely wouldn’t play for a few days. So either Murray knows Sturm will pass that physical or is assuming that to be the case.
Getting back to Mitchell, he said he was hoping to return Monday but wasn’t sure that was realistic until a few days ago.
“Last week it started to be the target just because of how it was feeling and what I was capable of doing,” said Mitchell, who shoots left-handed. “I was out there practicing and stuff like that but I really wasn’t comfortable taking shots. The last couple days I started to take slap shots and one-timers and there’s still some pain there but it’s bearable….
“It’s time to get going and hopefully I can just slide back in and find my game where I was playing. I was starting to feel I was starting to fit in with my game and the team and so just slide back in and do the things I can do to help the team.”
Doughty, incidentally, was embarrassed to hear Babcock’s effusive praise.
“I don’t know why he’s saying that,” Doughty said. “He’s a great coach. Playing with him at the Olympics, I learned a lot in a short period of time. He really knows his stuff and you can clearly see that because Detroit’s so good every year.”
The Doughty who Babcock raved about hasn’t been evident a whole lot this season. Doughty has had his moments, but his scoring has declined — especially on the power play, though part of that is due to faulty power-play strategy — and his defensive play has been spotty.
But Doughty disputed the notion that he’s not playing well.
“I think a lot people probably think I’m not having a good year and stuff like that but at the same time I think I’ve grown a lot as a defenseman,” he said. “I got a lot better defensively. I don’t think I’ve been on for too many even-strength goals against this year and I’ve been doing a pretty good job of that.
“Offensively my game is coming around. I’m getting a lot more shots. I think as soon as our power play starts rolling my points will start coming. Obviously it’s frustrating not getting any but if we’re winning and stuff like that I’m not too worried about it. But I definitely got better and I’m just going to get better as the season goes on.”
Murray was amused by Babcock’s comments about Doughty, asking if Babcock had looked at his finger to the Olympic ring that Doughty had helped Canada win.
“There’s a lot of inherent skill there, no question. Whether it comes from God or his parents, I’m not sure,” Murray said. “He’s a very talented young man and I think when he went to the Olympics last year he showed that he’s able to elevate his game to a very high level, play with high skill and high speed with the best players in the world and contribute significantly to that gold medal game in particular.
“We’re excited to have him. Happy to have him. Now we want to get him to that level playing for the L.A. Kings. I think his game has been good recently. The points have not been going up the way we anticipated I suppose at the start of the year. But he’s getting some [defensive] attention this year that comes with [the] territory of being a good hockey player. And to me that’s the conversation I’ve had with Drew, that you’re just going to have to find a way as a hockey player now to play the game with that attention to still get the result that we need as a hockey club.”
A few more notes: Brad Richardson (upper-body injury) did not make the trip. Murray said Richardson was due to see a doctor today in Los Angeles. It must be tough to find those upper-body specialists. Is there an upper-body specialty in medical school?
“It’s a very unique person,” Murray joked.
More from the Kings' game against the Red Wings later at www.latimes.com/sports
Helene Elliott, in Detroit
— Helene Elliot
Photo: Willie Mitchell. Credit: Christian Petersen / Getty Images