Today, I jokingly told Willie Mitchell that, soon, he and Alexei Ponikarovsky will be able to star in some hockey-themed buddy movie. To the chagrin of both players, they’ve been able to spend plenty of time together this season because of similarly-timed injuries, and now both will return to the lineup in the same game tomorrow when the Kings host Columbus. After today’s practice, Terry Murray pronounced both players to be ready. That wasn’t a surprise in terms of Ponikarovsky (pictured, right), who has been practicing with the team in recent days, but was much more surprising in terms of Mitchell (pictured, left), who hadn’t made it through a full-team practice until today. Mitchell described himself as “feeling better and better every day,” and said he wouldn’t put himself in a position that would hurt the team, but also didn’t deny that the Kings’ recent slump might have impacted his return date…
MITCHELL: “I wouldn’t say it’s not in your mind at all. Of course it is, but I like to think I’ve played long enough, and unfortunately I’ve had a little too much experience with injuries in this past year, to where you have to put yourself back in a situation where you’re not a liability. There’s a fine between pushing it and putting your best foot forward for the team, and putting yourself at risk. 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.”
The Kings had a 5-6 record during Mitchell’s most recent injury and were 1-5 with both Mitchell and Ponikarovsky out of the lineup. Ponikarovsky will become the ninth player to take shifts on Kopitar’s left side this season. Murray expressed confidence that both players were ready to contribute.
MURRAY: “(Mitchell) went through a lot of competitive drills here today, and has done a lot of skating over the last couple weeks. 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.”