EL SEGUNDO–The time is now for Marco Sturm. As for Andrei Loktionov, he’ll just have to wait for another day.
Sturm, the 32-year-old left wing who the Kings acquired from Boston in December, has yet to prove he’s worth the balance of his $3.5 million price tag.
He’ll get another shot to impress his new employer beginning Wednesday when the Kings travel to Anaheim for the last of 10 consecutive road games. Sturm played 15 games for the Kings between Dec. 21 and Jan. 18 and then headed to injured reserve with tendinitis in his right knee. Sturm missed the first two months of this season while rehabilitating a from offseason surgery on his other knee.
"I knew when I came here I was not 100% but I was trying to do my best," he said after Monday's brief 35-minute practice. "In the last few weeks, I tried to catch up and do the best I can off the ice too and I feel stronger. I feel like I can play a better game."
Kings coach Terry Murray said he plans to start Sturm on the top line with center Anze Kopitar and right wing Wayne Simmonds.
"He’s hungry, he’s ready to play," Murray said. "It’s now time to put him on a line where he has an opportunity to play his game with good players and for us then to evaluate him and see where he’s at."
Making room for Sturm on the roster was a tough decision, Murray said. The Kings opted to return Loktionov to their AHL affiliate in Manchester, even though Loktionov brought sorely needed speed through the neutral zone and skillful play-making ability. The 20-year-old rookie had four points in the last six games while splitting time between left wing and center.
In the 16 games Loktionov has played with the Kings this season, the team is 13-3-3. With Sturm in the lineup, they are 6-9-0. However, the team is averaging 2.86 goals with Sturm and just 2.52 with Loktionov.
Murray said offensive production wasn’t a factor in returning Loktionov to Manchester but rather his defensive play. Murray said he was "exposed" in a 4-3 shootout loss Thursday against the Rangers, prompting Murray to designate him as a healthy scratch Saturday in a 3-0 loss at the Islanders. The following day he was returned to Manchester.
"Overall, his game was good but you get into those real competitive games as we were in against the Rangers, it’s one goal, it’s back and forth," Murray said. "There were three or four different looks that they had that because of [Loktionov] losing coverage. Points are everything for us now and we just got exposed."
Murray made it clear that the door is still wide open for Loktionov to return at a moment’s notice.
"The bottom line is, he’s only a phone call away," Murray said.
Murray also did some tweaking to the second and third lines, breaking up the most productive and stable combination this season by moving Justin Williams off the second line with Ryan Smyth and Jarret Stoll and replacing him with Dustin Brown. Williams practiced with center Michal Handzus and left wing Brad Richardson.