LOS ANGELES—Alexei Ponikarovsky dropped to his knees the second the puck hit the back of the net, looking like a ton of bricks just fell off his shoulders.
The goal tied the score early in the third period against the San Jose Sharks and gave the Kings momentum down the stretch. They killed a four-minute penalty in the game’s final minutes, survived a back-and-forth overtime period and then won in the shootout, 3-2, for their third consecutive victory heading into the All-Star break.
Ponikarovsky, who had a hand in killing the four-minute minor on linemate Brad Richardson for high-sticking Douglas Murray, hasn’t had a memorable start to his Los Angeles career.
Acquired over the summer as a free agent, Ponikarovsky has twice been sidelined by injuries this season. Upon returning from his second injury, he quickly fell out of favor with coach Terry Murray after a sub-par performance against his ex-team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, while playing on the top line Jan. 10.
Murray had an especially pointed remark after the game, telling reporters he probably waited too long to pull Ponikarovsky off the top line in the 3-2 loss to the Maple Leafs.
He sat out the next game against visiting St. Louis as a healthy scratch and then returned as a fourth-line left wing. His goal Wednesday was his first since Dec. 18 and couldn’t have come at a better time for himself or the Kings.
“I had a couple injuries at the start of the year and I’m recovering from that,” he said. “It’s a normal process and you just have to go through some tough times.”
The goal came at the end of a long shift by Ponikarovsky, Richardson and Michal Handzus. As both teams battled for possession of the puck near the San Jose goal, it came out to Ponikarovsky, who took a shot that was deflected back to him. He send the second one down low and past the glove side of Sharks goalie Antti Niemi.
“That shift was absolutely outstanding,” Murray said. “They tried to clear it two, three times … you just want to keep pucks going to the net and good things can happen.”
Ponikarovsky said the shift ended up as a battle of attrition.
“It was a pretty long one,” he said. “When you have those guys in the zone like that you just have to stick there because you have to try to out-battle them. You basically wear them down and they were all tired at the end of the shift.”
Ponikarovsky was the only player who had good reason to be on his knees.