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Kings host Jackets in battle of struggling teams

by John Kreiser /
BLUE JACKETS (20-18-3) at KINGS (22-17-1)

TV -- FS-Ohio (HD); FS-West (HD)

Last 10 -- Columbus 4-6-0; Los Angeles 4-6-0

Season series -- It's the second of four meetings this season. The Blue Jackets became the first visiting team to win at Staples Center when they beat L.A. 5-3 on Nov. 17.

Big story -- Two of the teams involved in the Western Conference playoff traffic jam are looking for answers after slumps have derailed their fast starts. The Jackets are trying to avoid an 0-fer on their four-game road trip after Friday's 6-0 demolition at Anaheim, while the Kings are trying to snap a five-game slide after Thursday's 5-2 loss to Nashville.

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets -- Not much is going right for the Jackets, who are struggling to score and were completely overwhelmed by the Ducks. Teemu Selanne scored Anaheim's first two goals, but coach Scott Arniel said Matt Beleskey's goal midway that made it 3-0 midway through the second period was the killer.

"Even when we were down 2-0, we were getting a lot of chances and a lot of opportunities. But we couldn't get one past Hiller, and it got ugly after that," Arniel said. "When things are going bad, that is usually what happens."

Kings -- The last time the Jackets came to L.A., the Kings were riding high. Now they're looking for their first win of the new year. They're hoping the return of forward Alex Ponikarovsky and defenseman Willie Mitchell from injuries will provide a spark.

Both players skated Friday and were pronounced ready.

Mitchell "went through a lot of competitive drills here today, and has done a lot of skating over the last couple weeks,'' coach Terry Murray told the team's website. "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 (Anze Kopitar), 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.''

Who's hot -- No one on either team is on fire, though Kopitar has 5 assists in his last five games and is 1-9-10 in his last seven games. Ryan Smyth has 5 goals in his last six games.

Injury report -- Columbus put forward Ethan Moreau on IR with injured ribs. … Except for Scott Parse, who's out long-term after hip surgery, the Kings will be at full strength with the return of Mitchell and Ponikarovsky.

Stat pack -- This is as even a series as you'll find in the NHL. The teams have played 37 times since Columbus entered the NHL in 2000 -- each team has won 18 times and there has been one tie.

Puck drop -- Mitchell, who has missed 11 games with a lower-body injury, admits the team's struggled motivated him to return on Saturday.

"There's a fine between pushing it and putting your best foot forward for the team, and putting yourself at risk,'' Mitchell told the Kings' website. "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."

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