Poni out after hard fall

MIKE ZEISBERGER, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

It's a good bet a bright blue shoulder sling wasn't among the items found on Alexei Ponikarovsky's Christmas wish list this year.

But that's exactly what the Maple Leaf winger was wearing as he left Lakeshore Lions Arena yesterday, a gift from the team's medical staff.

The sling became part of Ponikarovsky's wardrobe after he caught a rut during practice and slammed into the boards. After he was helped to his feet, Ponikarovsky gingerly made his way to the dressing room, all the while rubbing his left shoulder.

While his teammates winged their way to Chicago after the workout, Ponikarovsky stayed behind to undergo medical testing. The team originally left the door open for him to fly in later in the day, but ultimately decided that he was in no condition to be in the lineup when the Leafs face off against the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at the United Center.

"I can't tell you anything further about his condition other than he won't play," coach Paul Maurice said last night from Chicago.

Maurice said Ponikarovsky did not consider the injury to be serious, although the tests could show otherwise.

"There was swelling, which is not a good sign," Maurice said. "The thing is, Poni never gets hurt. That's my medical take on it -- the guy never gets hurt. He goes into the boards a lot, he falls down a lot, he gets into a lot of things where you don't expect him to get back up and he bounces back up.

"So it's not a good sign when he lays on the ice like that."

Teammate Jeff O'Neill acknowledged that the collision startled some of the other Leafs.

"A 225-pound guy hitting the boards at 100 miles an hour ... Hopefully he's okay but it looked pretty bad," O'Neill said. "It's just one of those bad breaks."

Forward Kyle Wellwood, meanwhile, missed his second consecutive practice with a groin/hip flexor injury and will be a game-day decision. Unlike Ponikarovsky, Wellwood accompanied the team to Chicago.

"We'll see how he feels in the morning and evaluate it then," Maurice said.

How fast things can change in just a week.

Back on Saturday, Ponikarovsky and Wellwood each registered career-high five-point performances in a 9-2 thrashing of the New York Rangers. Now there is a chance that neither will play tonight, leaving their linemate, Mats Sundin, searching for a new pair of wingers.

Forwards Ben Ondrus and Aleksander Suglobov were both called up from the Marlies yesterday and are in Chicago poised to play if needed.


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