The LA Kings reconvened on the Toyota Sports Center ice some 12 hours after departing Staples Center and took part in a lengthy practice with contact and a good battle element. There didn’t appear to be any wholesale changes to the lineup, but there’s a good chance Matt Luff will return to the lineup against Pittsburgh on Saturday, potentially in place of Austin Wagner.
Though Luff hasn’t played in the last three games, Willie Desjardins acknowledged that it’s hard to keep him out of the lineup.
“He’s a good kid, he deserves to get back in the lineup. That’s probably the issue – is who do you take out? It’s always easy to move guys in your bottom line of the lineup out, but they’re not hurting us. They’re playing pretty well,” Desjardins said. “It makes you look at guys more higher up in the lineup. Hopefully those guys would play hard so they’re not guys you’d have to take out. You kind of expect that. But I need to get Luff back in. He’s a good player, he’s a good young player, he needs to play.”
There was a recent dip in Luff’s performance, complicating the reliance on his seven goals and 10 points in 28 games over 11:37 of average ice time during a season in which the team has averaged a league-worst 2.2 goals per game. But Luff is scoreless since Christmas, a personal five-game stretch in which he’s taken three shots and has seen several untimely turnovers creep into his game. His possession rates over that span are the lowest on the team.
Luff is also a 21-year-old un-drafted rookie with 28 games of NHL experience, and those players are going to have ebbs and flows in their performances. Perhaps after having watched the last three games, and having spent a noticeably heavy amount of time on the ice after practice with the development team over the past week, he’s ready to put his best foot forward in an important rebound game against Pittsburgh on Saturday. He spends a good amount of time on the ice with development figures like Mike Donnelly and Craig Johnson, and there was something Jarret Stoll had said recently that resonated with him.
“We were talking, and he was like, ‘don’t lose focus. You’ve come a long way since you were a young kid to get here,’” Luff said. “Believe in myself and my ability, so I think using him, he was there at one point in his career, too, trying to get into the lineup, so I think he’s got a lot of knowledge and is real helpful for me.”
–Not good news on two injury fronts. First, via Lisa Dillman of The Athletic, the lower-body injury that felled Daniel Brickley in San Jose on Friday will keep him out of the lineup “week-to-week.”
Brickley got tied up with Suomela, which led to him going off with what looked like a leg injury pic.twitter.com/GTLrm8lHwX
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) January 10, 2019
Brickley needed assistance leaving the ice. The Reign, who have lost six straight in regulation, return to action tonight in San Jose before crossing the Altamont Pass to face Stockton tomorrow night. The five-headed hydra of Matt Moulson (32 GP; 9-5=24), Sheldon Rempal (25 GP; 8-16=24), Brett Sutter (31 GP; 8-15=23), Philippe Maillet (32 GP; 8-24=22) and Matt Roy (32 GP; 6-14=20) lead the team in scoring. Still hearing good things about Matt Roy, Insiders.
–The latest in the Gabe Vilardi process:
Darren Keily the @KingstonFronts GM told me today @Gabe_Vilardi13 has been shut down for the rest of the season to hopefully heal his injured back. That's why he wasn't traded at the #OHLTradeDeadline .There's a chance he goes to the @ontarioreign once the Fronts season is over
— Ian MacAlpine (@IanMacAlpine) January 11, 2019
There remains no timetable with the Kings’ 2017 first round selection.
Oh, for those beautiful days in the spring of 2018, when Vilardi was trying to maintain a two-points-per-game clip and Kings fans were scratching their goatees and dipping their quills in ink, constructing finely calligraphed future lineups. Those 48 regular season and playoff OHL games and four games on an AHL conditioning stint represent the only 52 times he’s played since the Kings selected him 11th overall on June 23, 2017. During training camp that year I’d heard some really ominous-sounding questions as to when he’d get a chance to play, but there had been some tempered optimism after his ability to hold up well through the OHL playoffs. Since then, he hasn’t been able to participate at all in in the World Juniors summer showcase or Kings training camp or finish his conditioning stint in Ontario or participate fully at World Juniors camp.
–Brendan Leipsic has shown a pretty good mix of tenacity and raw skill and has offered a pretty good account of himself and an his identity as a player, but he just hasn’t been able to cash that into cold, hard offense. (His 7.63 on-ice GF60 while on a five-on-four power play, meanwhile, leads the team in a smaller sample size.) He’s essentially maintained his same scoring rate from Vancouver, but with only one goal in 18 games as a King, hasn’t transferred his hustle into production for a second line that has really struggled to score. Last night’s second line, a combination of Jeff Carter, Alex Iafallo and Leipsic, had amounted for 10 combined five-on-five goals this season, with Desjardins noting that while he’s liked Leipsic’s tight turns along the walls and ability to stop up and make plays, his alignment in the grouping was due to the pursuit of production depth. “We’ve really tried to balance out our lines to get some scoring from all of the lines,” he said. “The Oiler game I think was pretty balanced, but we just need to get more scoring.”
–HEY LETS HAVE SOME FUN, TOO. Here’s to hoping Austin Wagner remains in the lineup, not necessarily because he’s young and has good speed and some grit in his game, but because he should be playing on Star Wars Night. An admitted Star Wars fan, his four favorite episodes in the Star Wars saga are A New Hope, followed by Return of the Jedi, The Empire Strikes Back and, perhaps controversially, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. (It was the first Star Wars movie he saw in the theaters.)
Wagner also has fondness for Rogue One for providing some back story but wasn’t as high on Solo. His favorite character, “hands down,” is Yoda; his favorite fight scene, the lightsaber Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader duel. It raised an impromptu question.
During all the long bus trips in junior hockey, what was the worst movie he’d ever watched?
Team America: World Police, he said. “We only watched it to make our coach mad.”
Do or do not. There is no try.
So buy your tickets to Star Wars Night at the LA Kings game now and you'll receive a Kings X Star Wars beanie, presented by @MammothMountain.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) January 8, 2019
Willie Desjardins, on the team slipping after better recent efforts:
Well, I think that’s pretty accurate. For us, we have to hope it’s a one-off game, that it’s a game that we came out and for whatever reason we didn’t perform as well as we needed to play. Saying that, I don’t think we’ve played quite as well lately. We did have a good game in San Jose. Like, that was a good game for us. The Edmonton game was a good game, too. I think we still have more. We’re capable of playing better. But that game, that was a frustrating game for everybody and everybody left the rink pretty disappointed yesterday.
Desjardins, on the source of Thursday’s challenges:
I didn’t think our energy level was quite good enough last night going into the game. We did have a good start. The start was good, and even the start of the second period wasn’t bad. We scored, we had some pretty good momentum, and then we just let it slip away and we didn’t sustain much. And it’s like those types of games you get a break, and all of a sudden, it wasn’t that they outplayed us. They didn’t outplay us, but we just didn’t create enough to win the game.
Desjardins, on Friday’s focus:
Yeah, we didn’t do a lot of video. We know what we need to do. We know our game plan. We know our structure. It’s like we have to get back to hard work and our battle level has to go up.
Desjardins, on Kyle Clifford not being known as a goal scorer:
No, and he’s played with pretty energy, though. I think his speed’s been good. I think he’s skating well. Whenever he skates, good things happen. And when he’s right, when he goes to the net. But when he’s working hard and he’s skating, good things happen for him.
Happy trails, Rick Nash, one of the most fearsome goal scorers of his era. He retires with 437 career goals, tied with Pavel Bure for 67th place all-time.