The Kings not only have a new coach but also a new motto: “Let’s (fucking) go!” »
Jim Hiller, who led the Kings to a 4-0 triumph over rivals Edmonton in his debut, said his club made the decision from day one that “it was time to get moving again”.
As they headed to Buffalo for Tuesday’s game against the Sabers that will kick off a four-game road trip, Hiller expressed no concerns about his group’s ability to maintain their enthusiasm even after the novelty of a coaching change has worn off.
“It never ends, it never ends. It’s the NHL. If you take it a little slow…you run the risk of losing that confidence again,” said Hiller, who served as a Kings assistant during a calamitous month that saw them win the fewest games in the NHL. “None of us want to go through that again. So, I think it’s pretty easy to have a good day again.
The Kings could benefit from another boost in Buffalo as Viktor Arvidsson travels and inches closer to a return. Arvidsson underwent his second back surgery since May 2022 in October, sending him on another months-long recovery journey.
Even without Arvidsson, the Kings looked rejuvenated after a nine-day break. Captain Anze Kopitar wasn’t the only skater sick. Trevor Lewis appeared more lively and scored a goal against the Oilers on Saturday, in a game where Vladislav Gavrikov (knee) regained significant mobility and efficiency.
Gavrikov’s partner Matt Roy played a near-flawless match which saw him provide an assist while dominating defensively. He and Gavrikov blocked three shots each to match Drew Doughty’s individual total (six). In total, the Kings thwarted 25 Edmonton shot attempts, including 19 blocks coming from their defenders.
“Blocking shots is not fun (but) when you do it collectively, it becomes fun,” Hiller said. “It becomes something where you don’t want to let the next guy down, ‘I have to block mine (because) he blocked his.’ In the end, believe it or not, it becomes fun, because it’s a team and a brotherhood.
Roy is an unrestricted free agent, as is David Rittich, whose first shutout as a King further cemented his position as the best goaltender working today. Quinton Byfield, who could become a restricted free agent on July 1, spearheaded the Kings’ offense with three points.
“It’s all about trust. It was built all year round. When it’s good, it’s nice to have the puck,” Byfield said.
The Kings got a great performance from the player who, contractually speaking, will be there for the longest foreseeable period, Pierre-Luc Dubois. His floating power play goal on the far side highlighted a night where he was more active and engaged than he has been in recent memory. Hiller thought it was his best match as king and was happy to see Dubois compete with more enthusiasm.
“It’s time to have fun again, it’s fun to come to the rink with a smile on your face,” said Dubois, who compared the coaching change to a goalie change and a reset button. “We are together, there is no doubt here. The last 20 games haven’t gone the way we wanted, but there’s absolutely no doubt here.
The Kings’ newfound confidence and exuberance will next be on display in Buffalo, where the Sabers are still on track to miss the playoffs for a 13th straight season. Among the four major North American sports leagues, only the NFL’s New York Jets have had such a long drought.
They beat the Kings 5-3 on January 24 and finished this road trip with a victory in San Jose. They have lost both games since the All-Star break. Casey Middelstadt leads the team in scoring and plus-minus, but that hasn’t stopped the 25-year-old center from being the center of rampant trade speculation ahead of the March 8 deadline.
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