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Feb 10, 2024 3:27 am

Kings open play under interim coach vs. sizzling Oilers

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The Jim Hiller Era begins for the Los Angeles Kings when they host the red-hot Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night.

Hiller was named interim head coach for Los Angeles on Feb. 2, replacing Todd McLellan, who was fired after 4 1/2 seasons behind the bench. Hiller, 54, had been an assistant under McLellan since July 2022. He played 63 career NHL games in the early 1990s, including 40 with the Kings.

Los Angeles, which started the season with a 20-7-4 mark, is just 3-8-6 in its past 17 games, a stretch that included an eight-game losing streak (0-4-4). The Kings come in off a nine-day break for the All-Star Game and their bye week following a 4-2 win at Nashville on Jan. 31.

Despite the recent slump, the Kings head into the Saturday contest still holding the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

“I’ll say it like this — we are a really good team,” Hiller told reporters after conducting his first practice. “We have struggled, we’re not going to hide from that. But I think it would be a mistake to overreact in some areas of the game when I don’t think that’s necessary.

“The most important thing for me after being around the team, which played very well for the first 24 games of the season, is just getting our frame of mind back where it needs to be.”

Los Angeles center Phillip Danault said, “We got kind of lazy in the last month. I know we played a lot of games, but we didn’t have many practices. Todd didn’t have a lot of chances to get us back on track.”

Hiller probably couldn’t ask for a tougher challenge for his head-coaching debut. Edmonton has won 17 of its past 18 games, including a 16-game winning streak that matched the second-longest run in league history.

The Oilers bounced back from a 3-1 road loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday to defeat the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 on Friday.

Evander Kane logged his eighth career regular-season hat trick at Anaheim. Connor McDavid had three assists, and Leon Draisaitl scored the game-winning goal and also had an assist as the Oilers improved to 25-4-0 over their past 29 games.

“Nine years in the league I didn’t have a hat trick, so I was just hoping to get one at one point,” Kane said. “We were coming off a loss so it was nice to get two points.”

Edmonton coach Kris Knoblauch said of Kane’s hat trick, “Right now is the perfect time. You look at our past three games and we’ve had minimal scoring if 97 (McDavid) or 29 (Draisaitl) has not been involved. And we needed another guy to step up. And if you were going to pick somebody, it would probably be Evander Kane to step up, and he played a heckuva game tonight in all areas.”

The win moved Edmonton, which has five games in hand, to within seven points of second-place Vegas in the Pacific Division.

–Field Level Media

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