On the floor-to-ceiling whiteboard that covers a wall in his office, Kings coach Todd McLellan tries to keep his roster organized in multicolored ink.
With 23 names to manage, the first-year coach has been erasing and rewriting a lot. With only so many shifts to go around, he says his regular redistribution of playing time, which has seen different players scratched on almost a nightly basis, is often anything but punitive.
“We’re keeping all the players alive,” McLellan said. “In and out. In and out. Sometimes you come out of the lineup just so someone else can go in. I think sometimes that’s viewed as punishment, you’re out of the lineup. It isn’t. We carry 23 guys. We’re going to find ways to get everybody in. Development is important.”
Still, no one wants to sit. Just ask Matt Luff.
The 22-year-old forward has been one of several players bouncing around the roster this season. He has been called up from the minor leagues, sent back down, then called up again. He has been scratched at both the NHL and AHL levels, and struggled to repeat his surprising eight-goal debut season last season. He’s trying to play his way into the Kings’ future plans.
Thus, after poking in a loose puck Thursday night for his first goal of the season, Luff wheeled away in a celebration that felt like a lot more.
Highlights from the Kings’ 2-1 victory over the Ducks on Thursday.
“It’s a nice weight off my back,” Luff said. “The big thing is getting a win, especially on the road.”
Indeed, Luff’s tally opened the scoring in the Kings’ eventual 2-1 win over the Ducks at the Honda Center, a victory that snapped the team’s 11-game road losing streak. But his goal could serve another purpose too, giving McLellan something extra to think about the next time he contemplates taking an eraser to Luff’s name.
“End of the day, I know what he expects of me,” said Luff, who started the season with the team’s affiliate, the Ontario Reign, after an underwhelming preseason performance, “and I expect a lot of myself too. I think I showed what I was missing in camp. Just keep working hard, and we’ll be good. … In or out of the lineup, it’s just being a positive attitude.”
There are other players in Luff’s shoes. His goal on Thursday was sparked by a strong behind-the-net play from 23-year-old fourth-line center Michael Amadio, twice a healthy scratch this season. Forward Tyler Toffoli, recently dropped to the fourth line and also previously scratched this season, recorded two assists. Defenseman Kurtis MacDermid, another occasional onlooker this year, provided the night’s loudest moment with a bruising center-ice fight.
Even on a night when veteran Jeff Carter scored the eventual game-winning goal and goalie Jonathan Quick turned in a stellar 36-save performance, role players such as Luff provided perhaps the most fuel to the Kings’ first away win since Oct. 22.
“If you get your foot back in the door, you better not relax or take any shifts off,” McLellan said. “Luffer held his own in practice, worked hard. And when his number was called, he had a good night tonight.”