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Mitchell And Ponkarovsky Set To Return

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
The Kings got some much-needed good news Friday, when it was determined that injured players Willie Mitchell and Alexei Ponikarovsky are ready to return.

Mitchell has missed 11 games and Ponikarovsky has missed six, but both players are set to return when the Kings host Columbus on Saturday at STAPLES Center, and at least one of them is certain to return in a high-profile role.

Alexei Ponikarovsky will return from injury Saturday night and join Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown on the Kings' top line.
Mitchell is likely to get his usual big minutes, but Ponikarovsky will definitely start big. As part of coach Terry Murray’s continued line-combination tinkering, Ponikarovsky will start out the game on the first line with center Anze Kopitar and right winger Dustin Brown.

Ponikarovsky’s return afforded Murray the opportunity to tweak the lines he put together before Thursday’s loss to Nashville, and three of the four lines will have new looks.

In addition to the Kopitar line, the second line of Ryan Smyth, Michal Handzus and Justin Williams will stay together. Jarret Stoll will continue to center the third line, between wingers Marco Sturm, who moves back to left wing, and Wayne Simmonds.

Murray said he had not yet decided on a third-line trio among the quartet of Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, Brad Richardson and Kevin Westgarth, but Murray did indicate that Westgarth would play on Saturday and in Monday’s home game against Toronto.

Mitchell was declared ready to go after more than a week of high-level con ditioning skating and a couple practices with teammates. It’s not yet known whose lineup spot Mitchell will take among the Kings’ defensemen.

Willie Mitchell is eager to return to action Saturday night after an 11-game injury absense.
``(Mitchell) went through a lot of competitive drills here today, and has done a lot of skating over the last couple weeks,’’ Murray said. ``He's ready to get back in there, so both players will be back in the lineup tomorrow.

``Ponikarovsky, where you saw him today, on the line with Kopi, is probably where I'm going to leave him for tomorrow's start. I'd like to see good things happen there. Hopefully it does, but that's where he will fit in for the start of tomorrow's game.’’

Ponikarovsky has three goals and four assists in 22 games this season. Mitchell’s main value, of course, is in preventing goals, and that’s important for the Kings given that they have allowed 23 goals during this five-game losing streak.

Mitchell acknowledged that the Kings’ losing streak, in part, motivated him to get back into the lineup as soon as possible.

``There's a fine between pushing it and putting your best foot forward for the team, and putting yourself at risk,’’ Mitchell said. We've had some good skates, and once I feel comfortable in my mind with things, I don't need a week of practice. The only way to get back and get things going is to get in a game. That's how you get in game shape and thinking and all those things. So I'm really excited. I want to play some hockey.

``I haven't played nearly enough this year. Everything happens for a reason, but 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 a long, long layoff. Sometimes the season can be long and grueling, and it's a bit of a grind, but for me, it's probably a little bit different from these guys. I'm hungry to get out there and get playing, so I'm looking forward to it.’’

Murray said Jonathan Quick will start in goal against the Blue Jackets. Quick allowed four goals on 25 shots in the teams’ only previous meeting this season, a 5-3 Columbus victory on Nov. 17 at STAPLES Center.

It wasn’t surprising when Simmonds dropped his gloves to fight with Nashville’s Francis Bouillon, particularly since the fight took place 14 seconds after the Predators had scored their third consecutive goal to take a 3-2 lead.

The surprise for many, including Murray, was that the fight didn’t seem to give the Kings much jump. Simmonds got the better of Bouillon, and his teammates responded with support from the bench, but were outscored 2-0 the rest of the way.

Murray said he expected Simmonds’ actions to give the Kings more of a boost.

``Yeah, we sure did,’’ Murray said. ``In fact, we talked about it between periods in the locker room. He's an amazing guy when he gets into a fight. He always seems to do damage. But I really thought that that would bring a good spark, to get us back on track. You have a 2-0 lead in the (second) period, and when he does that, you're hoping that it's like changing a goaltender sometimes, that it's really going to excite everybody and get them back to doing the right things on a high-energy, high-level basis. It didn't work out.’’

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