Struggling Kings welcome back Willie Mitchell, Alexei Ponikarovsky for Saturday’s game

When people discuss the NHL’s biggest disappointments this season, the New Jersey Devils rightfully command the headlining position. Yet there are some other would-be contenders who are falling short of their preseason hype. One example is the Los Angeles Kings, a youthful group many pundits expected to win the Pacific Division and possibly contend for the Stanley Cup.

While it’s far too early to count Drew Doughty & Co. out, it’s still a bit of a letdown to see the methodically constructed contenders sitting outside the playoff picture right now. They’re only a point behind the seventh/eight seeds and two behind the fifth/sixth seeds, but even the heaviest Kings Kool-Aid drinkers must admit their recent efforts have been underwhelming.

With a five-game losing streak, the Kings surely must relish the return of steady defenseman Willie Mitchell and middling forward Alexei Ponikarovsky. Rich Hammond reports that both players will be in the team’s lineup tomorrow against the suddenly frisky Toronto Maple Leafs, with Poni apparently primed to take a first line left wing spot. The former bit of news is good, but the latter is up for discussion.

Isles claim goalie Berube off waivers

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jaroslav Halak
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The New York Islanders have claimed goalie Jean-Francois Berube off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings, the club announced today.

Berube won the Calder Cup last season with AHL Manchester, but the 24-year-old has yet to appear in an NHL game.

That the Isles claimed Berube could be evidence that Jaroslav Halak will not be ready to start the season after all.

If that’s the case, Berube would back up Thomas Greiss, with Stephon Williams expected to go to the AHL.

The Isles open their regular season Friday at home versus the Blackhawks, then play the next day in Chicago.

Leafs claim Corrado from Canucks, waive Panik

Frank Corrado
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The Toronto Maple Leafs have claimed one of the more intriguing players placed on waivers — former Vancouver defenseman Frank Corrado.

Corrado, 22, was waived by the Canucks on Monday. The former OHL standout had appeared in 28 career games for Vancouver — including 10 last year — but was squeezed out of an NHL spot following the emergence of Ben Hutton, who surprised many onlookers by making the 23-man roster.

Canucks GM Jim Benning will receive criticism for losing an asset like Corrado for nothing. Several Vancouver pundits warned of exposing a young, promising d-man to waivers and those warnings ultimately proved accurate.

With Toronto, Corrado could push for playing time as the club indicated on Monday veteran d-man Sephane Robidas wouldn’t be with the team to start the year. That would leave the the Leafs with seven healthy blueliners: Dion Phaneuf, Jake Gardiner, Roman Polak, Morgan Rielly, Matt Hunwick, Martin Marincin and Scott Harrington, who can go to the minors without having to clear waivers.

Petter Granberg, another defenseman, is currently on IR.

In a corresponding move to the Corrado claim, the Leafs put forward Richard Panik on waivers. Panik, who Toronto plucked off waivers from Tampa Bay last year, appeared in 76 games for the Leafs, scoring 11 goals and 17 points.