Kings goaltender Jonathan Bernier, left, will be in the nets against Columbus… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
Youth is relative, except when it comes to NHL defensemen.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter strongly subscribes to the theory that it takes young defensemen more time to adjust to the big leagues than it would take a young forward, a popular belief among coaches. He still considers Drew Doughty a young defenseman even though Doughty, at 23, is playing his fifth NHL season and has an Olympic gold medal and Stanley Cup championship on his resume.
“That’s not me saying that — that’s a fact. It does take some more time,” Sutter said Friday before the Kings faced the Columbus Blue Jackets at Staples Center.
“That’s why they go up and down a lot, young defensemen. Because their consistency and their defensive game ... some never do latch onto it, but the guys that do it over a period of time become really cosnistent players. That’s why they play longer for the most part, defensemen. You’ll see them when they’re 28 to 35, that’s when they’re in their prime and having their best years.”
Jake Muzzin, who will be 24 next week, is one of the young defensemen Sutter is hoping will be on an upswing. Muzzin was added to the Kings’ lineup against Columbus after being scratched for two straight games. He replaces Alec Martinez, who was placed on injured reserve after sustaining an upper-body injury in the Kings’ last game, a 4-1 victory at St. Louis on Monday.
“We talked about it this summer, with Dean [Lombardi] and the coaches. At some point these young defensemen are going to have to swallow hard because these guys are going to have to learn how to kill penalties in this league, otherewise they can’t play in this league,” Sutter said. “And now we’re having to deal with it. it’s interesting. Part of the whole curve of it. It’s challenging.”
Sutter said he was looking for improvement in a few areas from the 6-foot-3, 217-pound Muzzin, who has played eight games and has a +3 defensive rating in an average of 12 minutes 52 seconds’ ice time.
“I think just a little bit more stable game than we saw so far,” Sutter said. “He moves the puck good. He’s got a good shot. He’s got some good offense. There’s always detail in his game that we’re looking for consistency out of. Like with his size, to use it a little more. Not so much hammering guys as separating and playing better in his own zone.”
Sutter also said that by starting goaltender Jonathan Bernier against Columbus, No. 1 goalie Jonathan Quick has been able to get some much-needed practice time. This is the first time Bernier will have started two straight games since Sutter became the Kings’ coach in December, 2011.
Of Quick, Sutter said: “I think it’s been good these last few days for him to have some good work. I think that clearly he’s needed some really controlled practice time.
"And so I talked to him [Thursday] and told him, ‘This is the only time we can get it. March is just about playing so you’ve got to have your game in order.’
“We talked just a few days ago that we need one guy to get hot for us to get back into it. Bernie played really well the other night so he deserves to go again.”