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Sturm close to return

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Marco Sturm has officially graduated from the Kings’ "skating club."


That’s the term Terry Murray uses for players who do the tough, post-practice skating regularly, and of late, Sturm has been the president of the club, given that he has been on the injured-reserve list since Jan. 20 because of knee tendinitis.

Sturm is scheduled to return to the lineup when the Kings conclude their run of 10 consecutive road games Wednesday night at Anaheim, and Sturm will return in a high-profile role, on the first line with center Anze Kopitar and right winger Wayne Simmonds.

Sturm, acquired in mid-December from Boston, has four goals and four assists in 15 games with the Kings. Sturm hasn’t yet been activated, but to make room for him on the roster, the Kings sent rookie Andrei Loktionov to Manchester of the AHL on Sunday.

"It feels good," Sturm said, referring to his knee, after Monday’s practice. "Today's practice, well, it obviously feels better when you're on the top line there. But it feels good, it feels stronger. So hopefully it stays like this after I get some games in."

"Hopefully, knock on wood, it's going to stay like this. We did a lot of work, on it and around it, and a lot of treatment. I just have to make sure I stay on top on it. Even if it feels good, I've got to make sure I do my stuff, and hopefully it stays like this."

Sturm’s season didn’t start until late December because of offseason knee surgery. Then, after 15 games, Sturm went back on injured reserve because of tendinitis in the other knee, but Murray now believes Sturm is ready for game action.

"He has put a lot of work in, through all the practices on the day away from here, on the road," Murray said. "Practice days, morning skates, he got into the skating clubs pretty heavily each one of those days. I think he's as good as we're going to get him to, from not playing the game.

"Physically, he's 100 percent. Emotionally, now, he's hungry. I had a conversation with him on the road, about where he is at on the mental, emotional side of the game, and he's hungry. He's ready to play, and it's now time to put him on a line where he has an opportunity to play his game, with good players, and then for us to evaluate him and see where he's at. And also for him to play good for the team, to help us win some games."

The Kings also hope that Sturm can help raise the production of Kopitar, who has one goal in his last 15 games and two goals in his last 25 games.

"Definitely," Sturm said. "Open up some ice and some room for him. He's pretty good with that, and he's also good about giving it to me, when I'm there. I've just got to make sure I use my speed more, and create some room and chances."

LINEUP CHANGES

The Kings made changes to all four lines in Monday’s practice. On the other lines, Jarret Stoll centered Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown, while Michal Handzus centered Brad Richardson and Justin Williams. Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Kevin Westgarth are all in the mix for fourth-line roles.

SHORT AND SWEET?


Murray and his staff put the Kings through a brisk, 35-minute practice Monday, and they will be back on the ice in El Segundo tomorrow at 10 a.m. It was the Kings’ first time skating in Southern California since Feb. 8.

"We're just coming through a real difficult time with the schedule, a long road trip,’’ Murray said.
"When you come back, despite the resting and paying attention to a lot of the details when you are on the road -- eating properly, resting properly -- it still does have an effect on you. Yesterday being a day off, I just wanted to get refreshed.

"Come in and remove the lactic acid out of your body, get moving, get some skill drills put in place, high tempo, focus on the passing and the shooting, and then get yourself out of the building. There's been a lot of emphasis put on the attention to detail, especially when you're playing on the road like this, and I just felt it was important to move this along very quickly today."

REACH OUT AND TOUCH SOMEONE?

With Sturm returning, the Kings had little recourse but to send down Loktionov, given that he remains ineligible for waivers. Loktionov had been a lineup regular during the previous month, and Murray said the decision to send him to Manchester was difficult.

"Yeah, it was," Murray said. "He played well for us, and I love the kid. He brings skill level, a great competitive attitude. He is a player who is going to be a long-time player for the L.A. Kings. I felt, as we got through that road trip, it's a hard road trip. Emotionally, physically, it's very demanding. You're traveling late night, every night, and there were a couple of games where he was starting to get exposed on system play. Right now, we're in a position where we have to execute all of the details of the game. That's where you have to make a decision on him.

The bottom line, though, is that he's only a phone call away. He can get himself some rest, start to get gathered in and contribute with Manchester, and he's only a phone call away, and we can make that call and get him back."

The NHL’s 23-man roster limit is removed after March 1, but teams can make only three non-emergency moves after that and must stay under the salary cap.
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