It's Beginning to Look Like Another Bad Trip for Struggling Kings

Times Staff Writer

It started well, this six-game trip. The Kings opened with unexpected victories in Washington and Philadelphia. Then came Saturday's bitter loss to Boston. Then came Sunday's 6-3 defeat to the Hartford Whalers.

It may be that the Kings are unraveling. It's certain King Coach Mike Murphy is. No one was spared his anger here Sunday after the loss before a crowd of 15,126 in the Civic Center. Murphy's frustration may come from having seen his team play well, then sink due to familiar mistakes.

Further fuel for frustration has been the amazing comeback of the Vancouver Canucks, who are 6-4 in their last 10 games. The Kings are 3-6-1. The Kings, 28-37-8, are clinging to a six-point lead over the Canucks in the battle for the final playoff spot in the Smythe Division.

They will not make it if they continue to perform inconsistently, which is what riles Murphy.

"I thought we've been playing well," Murphy said, before launching into the harshest criticism of his team that he's yet dished out.

"We had some players who were not sharp tonight. They are not doing the things that got them in the league. They are not playing the way that got them into the NHL. I won't be specific--I'll deal with them on my own. But the way they are playing, they can't play on this team."

It was an oddly vague threat coming from Murphy, who has been reluctant to criticize this team. Even in the face of mistakes in judgment, mental lapses and just plain sloppy play, Murphy has maintained his Dale Carnegie approach.

Murphy's mood after Sunday's game may signal a change in his approach to the players.

Part of Murphy's frustration Sunday was because of what he perceived to be another questionable penalty call that went against the Kings.

Saturday in the Boston Garden Murphy was angered that Bruin Coach Terry O'Reilly yelled at referee Ron Fournier between the second and third periods. Murphy contended O'Reilly intimidated the referee and that led to the Kings' 30 minutes of penalties in the final period.

The third period in Sunday's game held another key penalty that went against the Kings.

The Whalers held a 4-3 lead when Hartford's Paul Lawless placed the blade of his stick in the face of King winger Jim Fox. Fox, who is one of the least-penalized Kings, retaliated by whacking Lawless across the back with his stick.

Fox was called for slashing and Dave Babych scored on the ensuing power play to give the Whalers a more comfortable 5-3 lead at 11:22.

Murphy was incensed that a penalty would be called in the neutral zone at that stage of the game.

"I can live with a late penalty in front of the net, but not in the neutral zone," Murphy said. "It led to their fifth goal, it was a deciding play. Fox is a clean player and he's not going to make those kind of plays unless he's provoked. He's (referee Dave Newell) not as intense as the teams. That tells me he's not paying attention."

Fox was angry after the game and few of his comments were printable.

Jimmy Carson earlier scored to tie it at 3:31, but Stewart Gavin got behind the King defense to give the Whalers a 4-3 lead at 6:33. After Babych's goal, John Anderson scored his second goal of the game at 13:00.

Hartford is 40-27-7 and is first in the Adams Division.

Hartford Coach Jack Evans described the Kings as being a good offensive team, which is a common assessment. However, the Kings' offensive output has waned and it is concentrated among a few players on the team.

The Kings have three players who have scored 20 goals or more. In contrast, Hartford has seven players with 20 goals or more.

The Kings cannot hope to make the playoffs if they continue to be a team concerned with goal production and ambivalent about goal prevention.

The foremost culprit has been the Kings' special teams, which have neither produced goals on the power play nor stopped them with penalty killing.

The Whalers scored on three of four power plays Sunday. The King penalty killing-unit is last in the league and Murphy appeared fed up with it.

"If we don't stop the power play, we can't go very far," Murphy said. "I don't know the questions. We'll have to come up with something. Maybe I'll have to change personnel."

Sunday's game was the second straight in which the Kings collapsed in the third period. Including Saturday's five third-period goals by Boston, the Kings have allowed eight goals in the last period over two games.

Asked if there was any significance to this statistic, Murphy said he thought not. "We lost both games, that's what it means," he said.

King Notes Dave (Tiger) Williams has had 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists) in the last 18 games. . . . Hartford defenseman Ulf Samuelsson was needling Williams all afternoon. When asked why, Samuelsson said, "I just wanted to stir up Tiger to see if he is still alive." . . . Even though the Kings were only down by one goal after the second period, the odds were that they'd lose. Hartford is 33-1-2 when they have led after two periods. The only loss came against the Kings.

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