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Interim Coach John Stevens tries to heal Kings, generate scoring

Kings
Interim coach John Stevens will be behind the Kings’ bench Thursday for the second straight game while General Manager Dean Lombardi finishes arrangements to hire a replacement for Terry Murray.

All indications remain that the new coach will be Darryl Sutter and that Sutter will take over next Tuesday. After facing the Blue Jackets, the Kings will play at Detroit on Saturday and at Toronto on Monday before returning home to face the Ducks next Thursday at Staples Center. Apparently, Sutter has some family and farming responsibilities to wrap up in Alberta but he should be able to sort everything out within the next few days.

Lombardi declined to elaborate Thursday while watching the Kings’ morning skate at Nationwide Arena. “I’m working through the process,” he said.

Though it’s odd to take so long before appointing the next coach — and the Kings’ 3-0 loss at Boston Tuesday was more of the same performance that undermined Murray — Lombardi said he has confidence in Stevens’ ability to run things for a while. “I’m not too worried about with Johnny having their respect,” Lombardi said.

Stevens is expected to stay on when Sutter is appointed, though it’s unclear whether Sutter will want to also choose an assistant.

In the meantime, Stevens is running practices, trying to find ways to produce goals and end the Kings’ five-game losing streak. Players, who have been addressed by Lombardi twice in the past few days, acknowledged Thursday that this hasn't been business as usual.

“It’s the first time for me. I’ve never had a coaching change in the middle of a year at any level, I don’t think. It is weird,” defenseman Jack Johnson said.

“It is what it is and you’ve got to deal with it. When the puck drops you’re still playing hockey. The game hasn’t changed. It’s kind of when we’re sitting around the room and we’re thinking about it, it’s weird.”

Johnson also said the team’s last practice was “one of the best practices we’ve ever had.” Stevens said he’s trying to deal more with emotions and the mind-set of the team than with strategy.

“When something of this magnitude happens, if you look at the last four years and where this team has come from and the success they’ve had, to go through emotionally what they have the last few days, it was just about trying to get some reps in and trying to get some energy and focus on getting things done on the ice,” Stevens said.

“Just trying to build some spirit back up after what they’ve been through emotionally in the last couple days.”

He singled out Johnson, Drew Doughty, Jarret Stoll, Anze Kopitar and Rob Scuderi as having been among the most impressive in practice Wednesday.

“I thought they came out with focus and almost determination emotionally to come out and make sure we got some constructive things done and focus on the ice and not focus on the peripheral stuff going on off the ice,” Stevens said.

Stoll said players realize they’re responsible for the team’s odd predicament. “It hasn’t obviously been the best, but we put ourselves in this situation and everybody in here, as a team and an organization, and we’ve got to get ourselves out of it,” he said.

“You’re not going to get out of it with one or two or four, five guys. We’ve got to all work harder, be better. It doesn’t matter who’s behind the bench right now. We’ve got to start with scoring goals, start with winning a period, start with winning a game.”

Stevens planned to make two lineup changes for Thursday’s game. He planned to take defenseman Slava Voynov and forward Trent Hunter out and replace them with Alec Martinez and Trevor Lewis, respectively.

This would be the first time Voynov will be a spectator since he was recalled from the American Hockey League for the second time and played against the Ducks on Nov. 16.

“I just thought that last game he got a little off the beaten path there,” Stevens said, referring to Voynov’s -2 defensive rating in Tuesday’s loss. “I think he tried to do too much on his own. I think he got himself in trouble maybe trying to do too much and got racing around. Sometimes less is more and I think that was the case last game. He turned a lot of pucks over that he doesn’t ordinarily do and I think we’ve got other guys, like a guy like Martinez, who has worked really hard to get healthy and come back and play. And they’re both guys capable of playing on the power play.

“I don’t think it hurts him right now to get removed from a game to watch. I think it’s a good learning experience for him…. I think it’s time to reset the hard drive and get back to the way he’s capable of playing.”

He said sitting Trent Hunter was “more of a numbers thing” and a way to use Lewis’ speed on the penalty-killing unit.

Stevens also said a decision would be made today on whether center Mike Richards will meet the team in Detroit or Toronto. Richards, who has a head injury, last played on Dec. 1. He might not play on this trip but the thought was he might benefit from being around the team.

Check back later for more coverage at www.latimes.com/sports

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-- Helene Elliott, reporting from Columbus, Ohio 

Photo: Kings Coach John Stevens watches from the bench during the third period against the Boston Bruins  on Dec. 13. Credit: Greg M. Cooper / U.S. Presswire

 
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