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Alexei Ponikarovsky, Willie Mitchell likely to return to Kings' lineup

Ponikarovsky is expected to be back with the Kings' first line, and Mitchell could add muscle to defense corps.

January 08, 2011|By Helene Elliott
  • Kings winger Alexei Ponikarovsky is chased by the Red Wings' Jonathan Ericsson as he brings the puck from behind the goal in the first period of a game last month.
Kings winger Alexei Ponikarovsky is chased by the Red Wings' Jonathan… (Jerry S. Mendoza / Associated…)

Coach Terry Murray had more ingredients to throw into his blender Friday when he remixed his lineup in an effort to end the Kings' season-worst five-game losing streak.

Left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky, who injured an ankle Dec. 26, is expected to return Saturday to play alongside Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown on the top line. And defenseman Willie Mitchell, who hurt his left knee Dec. 16 and sat out 11 games, said there is "a pretty good chance" he will return too, restoring physicality to a defense corps that badly needs muscle.

"I skated a full practice just to get ready mentally," Ponikarovsky said Friday. "Physically I was ready, but mentally I have to focus and get back."

Mitchell, who sat out 14 games in November and December because of a concussion, said the team's slump was on his mind when he declared himself available after Friday's practice.

"You've got to put yourself back in a situation when you're not a liability to the team," he said. "There's a fine line between pushing it and not putting your best foot forward for the team and also putting yourself at risk. …

"I'm really excited. I want to play some hockey. I haven't played nearly enough this year. Everything happens for a reason. I'm just really hungry to get out there and help the guys. I haven't played a ton yet this year. I felt like I was just coming into my game after that long, long layoff."

Murray moved Wayne Simmonds to the third line with Marco Sturm and Jarret Stoll, leaving Michal Handzus centering for Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams on the second line. Kyle Clifford was one of four forwards wearing a green jersey — the pool for the fourth line — but Murray said he felt he needs enforcer Kevin Westgarth against Columbus on Saturday and Toronto on Monday and hasn't decided who will sit.

Stoll, who said he was fine after taking a puck above the nose Thursday and needing a few stitches, said he's not concerned about which line he centers.

"It doesn't matter who you're with. As a team we've got to be better," he said. "We're digging ourselves a hole. We've got to make sure this doesn't keep going. We've got to nip it in the bud as soon as possible and hopefully that's now."

Slap shots

Jonathan Quick is scheduled to start in goal. He's 0-3 with a no-decision in his last four appearances. … Murray, critical of Sturm's work ethic before Thursday's 5-2 loss to Nashville, wasn't much happier after the seven-time 20-goal scorer had an assist. He said Sturm is "still in training camp mode," and must quickly adjust to his new team and surroundings. "I'm dealing with it," Murray said. "Not comfortably, but I'm going to keep pushing and keep talking and going to have to get his game back to the level of play that he knows he can play at. And quite honestly I'm waiting to see what that level is myself."

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