Shootout woes for Pony

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:47 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- Alexei Ponikarovsky knows there is a shootout albatross around his neck, but how he gets rid of it is another matter.

No player in the National Hockey League in 2006-07 has had more difficulty with the game-ending dog-and-pony show than the Maple Leafs forward, who has not scored once in seven attempts.

"I feel pretty comfortable, I just can't score," Ponikarovsky said. "I don't know what it is. I've always liked (the shootout) but I can't get it in this year."

Ponikarovsky's latest failure was Thursday night on Long Island. After Randy Robitaille of the New York Islanders beat Andrew Raycroft, it was up to Ponikarovsky to keep the Leafs breathing. But he was poke-checked by Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro.

Before last night's games, three players -- Trent Hunter of the Islanders, Brad Boyes of the Boston Bruins and Sergei Brylin of the New Jersey Devils -- had not scored in five attempts. Other than Ponikarovsky, no one had rung up zeroes on at least six tries.

It's past the point where one wonders why Leafs coach Paul Maurice keeps sending Ponikarovsky on to the ice for the shootout. The big Ukrainian is not exactly lighting the lamp on a consistent basis, scoring 16 goals in 50 games. Though Maurice wants Ponikarovsky to snap out of it, why not mix it up a bit and give Carlo Colaiacovo a chance or Jeff O'Neill a greater shot? It was Maurice who pointed out that defenceman Steve Montador, who has one goal in 52 games, recently had a try for the Florida Panthers.

"You wonder (if Ponikarovsky's confidence might take a hit with his struggles)," Maurice said. "But if you feel good in a game and you score a goal, there is a lot more in-game confidence than there is month-to-month on the shootout. We have had a lot of guys look down the bench smiling at me, nodding at me, because they want to go, and the same guy a week later has given you a shake and he just did not feel like he had it. So much of it is the players' confidence that night."


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