Murray wants more from Ponikarovsky
It’s been quite a roller-coaster week for Alexei Ponikarovsky. On Saturday, he returned to the lineup after missing six games with an ankle injury. On Monday, he skated on the first line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Today, he’s out of the lineup entirely. Ponikarovsky played just under 15 minutes on Monday against Toronto, but Terry Murray made it clear that he didn’t like what he saw. As earlier noted, Ryan Smyth will take Ponikarovsky’s spot on the first line, and Brad Richardson will take his lineup spot, with Richardson skating on the fourth line with Trevor Lewis and Kevin Westgarth. Here’s what Murray said today about his decision to scratch Ponikarovsky…
MURRAY: “With Poni, I just need him to be a more competitive player right now. He’s coming back off another injury there, but it’s got to be a whole lot better, from a veteran player.”
Ponikarovsky, signed to a one-year, $3-million contract last summer, has three goals and four assists in 24 games.
MURRAY: “Whenever you’re scratching a player, it’s very hard. Everybody wants to play on a regular basis. Certainly, whenever you’re a veteran player it’s more difficult. But there’s a standard of compete that we have to have. I was looking at the game that he played against Toronto, his former team. It was maybe the first game that he played against them. If he played against them with Pittsburgh, I’m not sure. And he’s playing with Kopitar and Brown. That’s a pretty good pair to be able to get on a line with, against your old teammates. I was expecting not just hard work but a very competitive level of hard work. That part of it is not there for me. In fact, I was upset about it at the end of the game. It needs to be at a higher level. I need to express that. Players don’t really want to accept it all the time, but that’s our view and that’s where the decision has to be made.”
Ponikarovsky actually did play a game against Toronto last season, after being traded to Pittsburgh. It was on March 28, and Ponikarovsky had one assist in the Penguins’ 5-4 shootout victory. On the other side of the coin is Richardson, who returns to the lineup after missing two games as a healthy scratch. Murray hasn’t elaborated as to what his issues with Richardson’s play were, but said he was confident that Richardson is ready to play…
MURRAY: “We had a meeting, and went over some video. I think we’re at an understanding, of what he needs from me and what I need from him.”