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Kings Gameday: Where Should Ponikarovsky Play?

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Calgary Flames
@ Los Angeles Kings

Thursday, Dec 9, 2010, 7:30 PM PST

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Alexei Ponikarovsky finally returns tonight after missing 12 games with a broken finger... shut up, man, it was really broken. Poni has unimpressive stats (4 points in 13 games) but when you consider that he faces some of the toughest opponents on the team (he's 3rd in Quality of Competition, behind his linemates Wayne Simmonds and Michal Handzus) and the fact that he was on the ice for only 3 goals in those 13 games, you start to realize why the Kings missed Poni. Now that he's back, the Kings have 2 choices: they can either place Poni with Anze Kopitar in an effort to finally give Anze Kopitar a left winger on which he can rely, or they can reunite him with Zeus and Meat Train and continue to use him against tough competition. What should they do?

2010 - Alexei Ponikarovsky 13 2 2 4 2 10 0 0 0 18

To try to solve this little dilemma, I went ahead and looked at who was on the ice for all the goals the Kings scored at even-strength during Ponikarovsky's absence. I swear it didn't take that long, stop looking at me like that. I figured that seeing who was winning or losing over that period of time would give us a good indication of who needed the most help. The results?

Goals For Goals Against
Kopitar 10 8
Stoll 6 7
Handzus 2 6
4th Line 2 5


Looking at the table, it seems like the top 2 lines are holding their own while the bottom-six is struggling. This is borne out by the individual stats: the top 5 forwards on the Kings are scoring 66.6% of the Kings' goals. That's the higher than all the teams currently in the playoffs in the Western Conference except for the Ducks, who have an amazing 70% of their goals scored by their top 5 goal scorers.

Zeus' numbers surprised me. I felt like he was doing well in the goals against department, and he is; that is a prefectly acceptable amount of goals against for Handzus, especially when you consider that he's generally going up against the other team's top line and especially when you consider that he has had either Kyle Clifford or Trevor Lewis, both rookies, on one of his wings for those games.

But the goals for is disappointing. You'd expect your shutdown line to not only keep the puck out of their own net but also beat the other team in scoring. That's where the Kings are missing Ponikarovsky. Handzus can backcheck and keep the puck away from Jonathan Quick, but he needs a big body to maintain possession in the opposing team's zone so his line can work the cycle and create chances in the offensive zone. Zeus has been unable to get that cycle going with any regularity in Ponikarovksy's absence and it's hurt the Kings.

There's this idea that you need a dominant top line to succeed in the NHL. This is not necessarily true. Sure, it helps, but you can also win by having 3 lines that can be a plus more often than not. Kopitar has been doing fine with Brown and he's been doing fantastic with Brown & Justin Williams (3 points, hasn't been on the ice for a goal in 2 games). It's Handzus that needs the help. Poni should provide that.

It's funny; I thought Ponikarovsky was struggling a little bit at the start of the season. It wasn't until he was gone that I realized how important he was to the team. Hopefully I was still right, and Poni can pick it up and turn the Kings into a dominant 3-line team.


The last time the Kings played the Flames, they lost because Jack Johnson forgot how to backcheck and Davis Drewiske tipped a puck past Jonathan Bernier. Also the Kings only had 22 shots on goal. Let's try not to do those things tonight.

Prediction: Kings win, 3-1. Goals by Ponikarovsky, Simmonds and Handzus. Long live the 3rd line.