Defenseman Willie Mitchell says the Kings need to push their game to the… (Rich Lam / Getty Images )
After watching rivals celebrate major accomplishments twice in the past three games, the Kings are in position again to do some rejoicing of their own.
A victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday at Staples Center would guarantee the Kings a playoff spot, a goal they were denied when they lost at San Jose and Dallas won twice.
The Western Conference standings shifted again Tuesday when Nashville beat Atlanta and climbed to fourth, bumping the Coyotes and Kings to fifth and sixth, respectively. The Coyotes and Kings each have a game in hand on Nashville.
The Kings are tired of being a footnote to history after their loss at Vancouver last Thursday allowed the Canucks to clinch the President's trophy and their 6-1 loss Monday at San Jose gave the Sharks the Pacific Division title. Most players said they had put the San Jose loss behind them, but defenseman Willie Mitchell said he's turning it into a motivational tool.
"If we want to take the next step as a hockey club to get to the next level and be one of those teams that are celebrating winning their division or the Presidents' Trophy we've got to find ways to beat those teams in a high-pressure situation," Mitchell said Tuesday after the Kings practiced in El Segundo.
"That's part of developing, part of a young team getting older and getting more familiar with those games and being calm under pressure and not panicking, staying with your same game plan no matter what happens. Those are learning experiences and you don't learn them without going through them in life, and we're going to use them to grow as a team."
Mitchell said the Kings' bench "started to get a little panicky" when the Sharks took control in the second period, a failing they can't repeat.
"We've got to get out of that habit. Just because a team scores a couple goals doesn't mean you have to panic," Mitchell said. "We were playing pretty well at the start considering how hard they were playing….
"That's part of growing, part of learning, but part of growing and learning is being aware of the game you played before but realizing it's just kind of a hiccup over the course of the season, and you get prepared and play the next one."
Kings Coach Terry Murray scrambled his defense duos during Monday's game but on Tuesday reverted to pairings of Rob Scuderi-Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez-Matt Greene, and Mitchell-Jack Johnson. He swapped right wings on two lines, putting Dustin Brown with Ryan Smyth and Jarret Stoll while placing Oscar Moller alongside Dustin Penner and Michal Handzus.
Penner has no points in nine games and no goals in 10. Murray, unhappy enough with Penner's work ethic last week to chat with the brawny winger, said he still sees some hesitancy in Penner's adjustment to the team's systems. "I wish it was further along," Murray said.
Murray also said Jonathan Quick will start in goal despite yielding four goals on 16 shots Monday. "He's the guy that we're riding," Murray said.