Daily News Kings showing renewed life under Hiller ahead up matchup with Columbus


They see me rollin'. They hatin'.
Staff member
When the Kings sacked Coach Todd McLellan, General Manager Rob Blake said they were now in the results business.

Since then, business has been booming.

The Kings have won four of five games under the recently promoted Jim Hiller and five of six decisions overall dating back to what turned out to be McLellan’s sendoff on Jan. 31. That has taken some heat off Blake ahead of Tuesday’s meeting with the Columbus Blue Jackets, an organization that fired its own general manager, Jarmo Kekäläinen, last week.

The Kings have rallied in both macrocosm –– they’d lost 14 of 16 games before capturing five of six victories –– and microcosm. They trailed in the third period in Pittsburgh on Sunday and faced two final-frame deficits in Boston on Saturday.

Brandt Clarke more than compensated for his overtime penalty with his game-winning goal two minutes later against the Bruins and Adrian Kempe’s two third-period tallies, including a shorthanded winner, upended the Penguins. They are the only franchise against which Kempe has averaged more than a point-per-game against in his career, including seven goals in the past three meetings.

Though the Kings have won three games by one goal, a fourth by that same margin plus an empty-netter and one decisive result that wasn’t well-supported analytically, the grind of the stretch run demands points in the standings. They’ve gotten those at a critical time while their demeanor has improved drastically.

“Confident, for sure, besides that Buffalo game where we didn’t really show up. We came back after that and showed good character,” Kempe said. “Now, we’re winning the tight games. Before the (All-Star) break, we were losing OT games, we were losing the tight games. It’s bouncing our way right now.”

Not only did the Kings’ skaters pull off back-to-back comebacks, but the back-to-back set earned each of their goalies a victory. Cam Talbot ceded just one goal to the Penguins in his first start since Jan. 26 and came away with his first win since Dec. 23. The defense in front of him, which scored three goals against the Bruins, was near the level of commitment it showed in Hiller’s first game as head coach, a 4-0 home win over Edmonton in which the Kings got 25 shot blocks, 19 from their defense.

“Cam was really good. He made the save when he had to make the save. But what I would say is our entire ‘D’ corps in front of him I thought played tremendous,” Hiller said. “(It was) certainly their best game on the road trip.”

Columbus certainly hasn’t seen that type of defensive success often this season, as they’ve given up the second most goals per game in the NHL. That’s thanks in part to a 26th-ranked penalty kill that hasn’t been offset by a 28th-place power play or the No. 27 faceoff percentage among the league’s 32 teams.

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There has been some similar turbulence in Columbus and Los Angeles, however, surrounding a pair of $68 million acquisitions, though both have trended positively of late. The Kings’ Pierre-Luc Dubois, who signed an eight-year deal after being traded to the Kings this summer, has four points in five games since the coaching switch after a mostly disastrous first 48 games. Columbus’ Johnny Gaudreau, who signed a free-agent pact for seven years at $68.25 million two years ago, was benched twice in November. He turned in a point-per-game December, and he will enter Tuesday’s game on a six-game point streak, including five points in three contests since the pause.

Gaudreau’s 37 points lead Columbus, though they represent the third-lowest total for a team leader in the NHL behind Chicago’s Connor Bedard (36 points in 12 fewer games) and San Jose’s Tomas Hertl (34 in five fewer games).

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