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Helene Elliott: Interim coach Jim Hiller gives Kings a blueprint for success, and they execute it

Helene Elliott, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Hockey

LOS ANGELES — In the few days since Jim Hiller took over as the Kings' interim coach, he has deliberately worked more on changing players' mood than on changing the team's strategy.

His first directive Thursday, after he led them through practice for the first time, was simple and not revolutionary: Have fun. Work hard. Work for each other, and it will become enjoyable and build camaraderie, so you'll have an easier path toward returning to a solid early-season form. Players liked what they heard.

"We've been through ups and downs this year. It's time to have fun again. It's time to come to the rink with a smile on our faces," was Pierre-Luc Dubois' summation. "Excited to get back on the ice for practice, excited to get back on the ice for games. Doing it together."

Hiller's second directive is tricky to quote directly. "I can't really say it because there's a swear word in it," Quinton Byfield said.

When pressed, Byfield said the phrase began with "Let's" and ended with "Go" and had an expletive in the middle. "We'll get those on T-shirts," he joked.

Whether they put that message on T-shirts, caps or tattoos doesn't matter. What mattered was the Kings played like they believed in it Saturday throughout a 4-0 victory over the Edmonton Oilers, who had won 17 of their previous 18 games.

 

Fresh off a long break and playing a team who eliminated them in the first round of the playoffs each of the last two seasons, the Kings put together a strong effort in Hiller's NHL coaching debut. They scored on one of two power plays and killed all five disadvantages they faced.

Not only didn't they blow the 2-0 lead they carried into the third period, they extended it. Goaltender David Rittich made 26 saves to record his first shutout as a King and first since Feb. 22, 2021, when he was with Calgary and blanked Toronto.

"We never lost faith or trust in ourselves," Rittich said. "We know we are good players. Good hockey club. And we can win."

Dubois contributed more Saturday than he had in the previous month, drawing a penalty, scoring their first goal during a power play and dishing out four hits. Byfield set up their second goal by stripping Connor McDavid of the puck in the defensive zone and feeding a streaking Trevor Lewis. Byfield scored their third goal off a rebound and their fourth into an empty net.

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