Kings defenseman Matt Greene and New Jersey Devils center Ryan Carter collide… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
DENVER -- Greetings from Denver, where the Kings will face the Avalanche on Tuesday night without the veteran leadership of defensemen Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene. Center Anze Kopitar, however, will be back in action.
Mitchell is on this three-game trip but is not ready to return. Greene remains back home and was diagnosed with a herniated disk, which will require surgery, Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said.
The surgery could happen as early as Thursday.
But Sutter revealed that Greene had been having back issues in the off-season, well before the season opener against Chicago.
“He had trouble this summer,” Sutter said after Tuesday’s morning skate here. “And that’s part of playing a long time, right? He had trouble with it and it acted up again. We’ve seen that with a handful of our players so far. It was diagnosed as a bulging disk this summer and he trained through it.
“It got better and it obviously got worse. He’s the type of guy that’s trying to play through things all the time. The surgery is probably similar to what [goalie] Jonathan [Quick] had at the outset. I guess everybody is different. But everybody is the same.
“There’s a healing process. And then there’s a rehab process. That’s where everybody is different, how long it takes.”
That’s what makes a recovery timetable incredibly difficult to target. Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi told The Times on Monday that it would “probably” be three months for Greene. If he is a quick healer, it might be a shorter absence.
But Quick had his back surgery in early August and word was he would be ready for training camp, which was to have started in September.
The lockout occurred and, as it turned out, Quick was medically cleared only just before the lockout ended in early January.
Sutter acknowledged Greene’s leadership abilities, especially in terms of key situations.
"If you just did it on paper, he’s probably the fifth or sixth defenseman in minutes, right?" Sutter said. "But [there is] time and score and the penalty-killing.”
Mitchell had knee surgery during the lockout and only had his first full practice with his teammates on Monday. Slowly his activity will be increased.
“You've just got to go out every day,” Sutter said. “A little bit of contact yesterday and it’ll get more as we go through the trip. That’s why I want him on the trip. He hasn’t played for seven months. It’s going to take some time here.”
Forward Anthony Stewart cleared waivers and was assigned to the Kings' minor-league affiliate in Manchester, N.H.
Taking Greene’s spot in the lineup is 23-year-old defenseman Jake Muzzin. Muzzin played 11 games with the Kings in the 2010-11 season. His junior career was marred by back trouble; in fact, he had two herniated disks in 2005.
“We waited too long to have the surgery,” he said. “Tried to rehab it and I missed the whole season and half of the next year.”
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