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Hockey

Matt Luff hopes his latest stay with the Kings lasts a long time

Matt Luff
Kings forward Matt Luff warms up before a game against the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 15.
(Jim Mone / Associated Press)

One of the more important goals that Matt Luff scored this season didn’t happen with the Kings.

It was in a Feb. 20 game for the Ontario Reign that Luff took a pass from Matt Moulson and scored on a breakaway against the Stockton Heat. It didn’t register in the big picture — the Reign, like the Kings, aren’t going to make the playoffs — but that play represented a breakthrough for the rookie Luff.

“Once I got my first goal in 2019, I think I re-found my game because obviously I’m a guy that scores, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself,” Luff said. “I kind of put a lot of pressure on myself to come in here and try and put up points and get some goals. I think in Ontario, I found my game and I found my confidence and just realized how I wanted to play. … I think, going down [to the minors], I found that.”

That confidence manifested itself in Luff’s latest call-up. He scored the Kings’ only goal Tuesday against Montreal, and it was his first goal with the Kings since Dec. 15. That gap is partially explained by his shuttle between Ontario and the Kings. This is Luff’s fifth recall this season, a number he would like to reduce.

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“I want to show that I can play here and try to earn a spot, and not be a guy who keeps going up and down,” Luff said. “I want to be the guy who stays up and keeps producing day in and day out.”

Going by the numbers, Luff has made a case. His eight goals in 32 games are more impressive considering he averages fewer than 12 minutes a game. He played only seven minutes, six seconds on Tuesday, and his goal was scored on one of his four third-period shifts.

Coach Willie Desjardins said it was a tough situation for Luff to enter. Luff was thrown into a game against the Canadiens and goalie Carey Price. But Desjardins commended Luff when asked what he needs to see to get Luff more minutes.

“He’s got a great shot, and that’s one thing he’s got to keep using, is finding ways to get that shot,” Desjardins said. “He got an opportunity and he put it away, which is great.”

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Luff might get more ice time anyway if Austin Wagner is out for an extended period. Wagner was reportedly seen on crutches postgame Tuesday. But part of being a rookie is learning how to work through lost confidence and dry spells, which Luff has done in the minors under Ontario coach Mike Stothers.

Stothers recently criticized Luff postgame for needing an “attitude adjustment,” but Stothers is generally known for his tough-but-positive guidance of younger players through the Kings’ system.

“I think he holds me pretty accountable to how I play,” Luff said. “He’s a big reason that, when they look for a guy to call up, I’m one of those guys. He makes sure I play hard and I play the right way and the way the Kings want me to play.”

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It’s unfortunate that Luff’s recall happened at the expense of Wagner. The two made a sort of pact over the summer to not only make the Kings but to play a significant number of games. Luff said he texts Wagner for support, and vice versa.

“We just work off each other well,” Luff said. “We’re good friends for that.”

Brickley cleared

Daniel Brickley is cleared to play and is expected to be in the lineup this weekend for Ontario, Stothers told Reign Insider. Brickley has been out since January with a lower-body injury.

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UP NEXT

VS. ST. LOUIS

When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: iHeartRadio (LA Kings Audio Network).

Update: St. Louis activated Brayden Schenn from injured reserve Wednesday. The Blues were 27-16-3 through Tuesday under coach Craig Berube, who replaced Mike Yeo immediately following a 2-0 loss to the Kings on Nov. 19. The Kings also beat the Blues on Jan. 21 in the Kings’ final game before the bye week.

curtis.zupke@latimes.com

Twitter: @curtiszupke


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