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Kings expect Ponikarovsky, Mitchell to return Saturday

Left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky and defenseman Willie Mitchell are expected to return to the Kings’ lineup Saturday against Columbus at Staples Center, good news for a team that has been making bad news daily during a five-game losing streak.

Ponikarovsky, who injured an ankle Dec. 26, and Mitchell, who hurt his left knee Dec. 16 in only his second game back after a concussion, had no restrictions in practice Friday at El Segundo and said they’re ready to go. Ponikarovsky will play on the left side with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, back to his natural right-wing position after moving to the left for a while. The second line was also revamped — again — with Marco Sturm on the left, Jarret Stoll at center and Wayne Simmonds on the right.

Coach Terry Murray said he wasn’t sure who will come out of the lineup when Ponikarovsky and Mitchell return, though forward/defenseman Peter Harrold — who was on right wing Thursday — is an obvious candidate to be scratched.

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

Although Murray was definite in saying Mitchell and Ponikarovsky will return, Mitchell termed it as “a pretty good chance” he will play.

“As long as it doesn’t get worse then it’s fine,” Mitchell said. “You feel like you can do your job and not be a liability to the coaching staff or your teammates because that’s what’s most important.”

There was one hold-your-breath moment involving Mitchell on Friday: the veteran defenseman twisted his knee during a drill and got up slowly, skating in circles for a few moments until he was sure he could continue. He shrugged it off.

“That just happens. Anyone who’s had the injury I had, you tweak it a little bit, it burns for a little while and goes away,” he said. “All the guys who have had similar injuries go through that, so this is part of the program.”

Jonathan Quick will start in goal Saturday for the Kings, who are halfway through an eight-game homestand and have yet to win a game. Murray also said he wants enforcer Kevin Westgarth in the lineup Saturday and again Monday, against Toronto.

Look for more at www.latimes.com/sports
-- Helene Elliott

 
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