When it comes to what else Blake is looking for after firing Todd McLellan as coach and naming Jim Hiller the interim for the rest of the season, the general manager was vague.
“Jim will have a much different approach in all aspects,” Blake said Monday in his first availability since making the coaching change on Friday. “I don’t know if I’m going to get into the systems and structure. Part of the timing here, it does give Jim some days here with our group before our next game.”
Los Angeles’ next game isn’t until Saturday when it hosts the Edmonton Oilers, who have won 16 straight and could tie the NHL record for consecutive victories at Las Vegas on Tuesday. Hiller’s first practice as head coach will be Thursday when the Kings return from the All-Star break and their bye week.
The Kings (23-15-10) hold the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference with 56 points, but are only four points from falling out. They trail the Oilers by three points for third place in the Pacific Division, but Edmonton has three games in hand.
It has been a season of extremes for Los Angeles. It had 44 points after 31 games, tied for the most in team history. Since Dec. 28, they have gone 3-8-6. The three wins are tied for the fewest in the league in that span and the 12 points are tied for the fifth worst.
The disappointing stretch, which included five one-goal losses in regulation or overtime, cost McLellan his job after four-plus seasons behind the Kings bench.
Blake said the team’s 2-4-2 stretch going into the break — including a shootout loss to San Jose and blowing a two-goal lead to Buffalo, both at home — was a determining factor.
“This was done in an effort to correct the way we played of late. Our offense, our defense, our overall game. Individuals and the team have not been up to a level of our desired needs,” Blake said. “Our team has played disconnected, I think. I don’t think that last little while we were going in the same type of connection we had earlier in the season.”
Blake also said it was his decision to fire McLellan, and he understands this puts his status even more on the hot seat.
“We have 34 games left. The team was built and assembled to get in the playoffs, and that’s what we need to do. So that will be judged on wins and losses,” Blake said.
Since coming to the Kings, Hiller has helped improve the team’s power-play unit, but it remains to be seen whether he will be allowed to tinker with the team’s 1-3-1 scheme, which relies on forechecking and trapping in the neutral zone to generate rushes on offense.
Hiller’s first two priorities will be turning around the Kings’ offense and trying to get Pierre-Luc Dubois on track. After leading the league in scoring the first two months of the season, Los Angeles averages just 2.35 goals per game in its last 17 outings, third-worst in the league.
Dubois, acquired from Winnipeg and signed to an eight-year, $68-million contract during the offseason, has been shuffled up and down the four scoring lines and has only 10 goals and 20 points. Both are career lows in 47 games in his seven seasons in the league.
This will be Hiller’s first time as an NHL head coach. Blake pointed to Hiller’s five seasons as coach of the Tri-City Americans at the junior level in the Western Hockey League.
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