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Feb 19, 2024 7:33 pm

Back on track, Kings return home to face Blue Jackets

Adrian Kempe

The Los Angeles Kings will try to continue their improved play under interim coach Jim Hiller when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night.

Los Angeles is 4-1-0 since Todd McLellan was fired on Feb. 2 and Hiller took over. The Kings have won three in a row, all on the road, including back-to-back victories on Saturday and Sunday against the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I’m just happy for them because we had a really hard six weeks or eight weeks, whatever you want to call it, and it just doesn’t feel good,” Hiller said. “When your job isn’t going good for you it doesn’t feel good. There’s only one way to get out of that, to just dig yourself out of it.”

The turnaround seemed to follow a 7-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in the opener of their four-game trip on Feb. 13.

“After the Buffalo game this trip, we had everybody on board,” Hiller said. “Everybody recommitted. There wasn’t a guy that we could point to that didn’t do the job. That makes you tough to beat when you get that.”

Adrian Kempe bounced back from his minus-4 showing against the Sabres to record an assist in a 2-1 win against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday and score both goals in the win against Pittsburgh.

“He’s a goal scorer and he got 40 last year,” Hiller said. “For me, it’s just the work ethic. Juice got back on the body. He’s physical if you look at the hit chart, so he’s doing all the right things to get back to the identity of the team.”

The Blue Jackets will try to win two in a row for the first time since Nov. 22-24. They’ve had 10 chances to accomplish that feat since then, but have lost each time.

Their latest victory came on Saturday night when Boone Jenner scored with 13 seconds left in regulation to give Columbus a 4-3 win at the San Jose Sharks.

It was the second-latest go-ahead goal scored by a Columbus player in team history, behind only Patrik Laine’s goal with eight seconds left in a 2-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 12, 2022.

“We’ve always found ways to lose this year, it seems like,” Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski said. “(Saturday) night, we found a way to win with (13) seconds left, which hasn’t happened yet this year, so it definitely feels good to be on the right side of things.”

In the first meeting against the Kings on Dec. 5, Columbus took a 3-0 lead into the third period, but gave up three goals in the first seven minutes and ultimately lost 4-3 on an overtime goal by Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty.

“Any team that’s won, or any winning teams that have that culture, have been through tough times,” Jenner said. “Right now, we’re in that process. Some days, we’re not where we need to be at. It’s finding the energy to dig deep in those circumstances. At the end of the day, it’s going to help us grow as a group.”

–Field Level Media

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