All that has ailed the Kings seemed to vanish Wednesday night on a desperation shot from behind the net by a player whose nickname among his teammates, appropriately enough, is Lucky.
Luc Robitaille’s shot, which gave the Kings a 5-4 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, did more than end a four-game winless streak.
It ended two days of turmoil, in which the players barred the coaches Tuesday from a team meeting and owner Bruce McNall suggested Wednesday that Coach Robbie Ftorek might be replaced.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to win, whether it be changing coaches or changing players,” McNall said in the press box before the game. “At the moment, I’m more interested in the players playing for the coach we have.
“But the players have to believe he’s going to be the coach. If they don’t believe it pretty soon, they’re better off telling me now so I can do something to move him.”
McNall again said that he believes Ftorek is doing a good job and that he prefers to retain the second-year coach, but added: “Nothing is out of the realm of possibility.”
The Kings then went out and erased a 4-2 deficit in the last 18 minutes 22 seconds to end the Sabres’ five-game home winning streak.
Before a crowd of 16,433 in the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, where the Sabres had lost only once in 11 games since Jan. 4, Steve Kasper scored twice for the Kings in the third period, helping recently acquired goaltender Kelly Hrudey pick up his first victory in three starts with his new teammates.
But the oddest goal during the Kings’ only visit to the Aud this season was scored by Robitaille with 3:37 remaining.
The All-Star winger chased down the rebound of a wild shot by defenseman Dean Kennedy and, from behind the baseline about 10 feet to the right of the net, lifted a backhanded shot that skimmed the right post and caromed off the leg of goaltender Jacques Cloutier, falling into the net.
“I knew Dave (Taylor) might be in front of the net, but I didn’t want to make a pass without looking because, at that point, you don’t want to make a mistake,” said Robitaille, whose 41st goal was his first in five games. “I tried to throw it up into (Cloutier’s) legs, but I put it into the (side of the) net. I missed my shot, but it hit his leg anyway.”
And so, all seemed well again with the Kings.
“Oh, no, not all is well,” assistant coach Bryan Maxwell said. “We still have areas we have to improve on.”
Still, the atmosphere in the locker room was a lot more pleasant than it has been. The Kings started this trip with two losses and a tie.
And sprinkled throughout each game was acrimony.
After a 4-1 loss at Edmonton last Friday, in which Mike Allison was assessed two minor penalties and a 10-minute misconduct with less than 10 minutes left, Ftorek benched him for Sunday’s 1-1 tie at New Jersey.
Then, in a 6-4 loss to the New York Rangers Monday night, Bernie Nicholls was benched by Ftorek for most of the third period.
Ftorek later questioned Nicholls’ work habits, and Nicholls, who leads the Kings with 57 goals but has failed to score in six games, said that he was being unfairly singled out as a scapegoat for the Kings’ slide.
Robitaille also was said to be upset with his decreased playing time.
Nicholls and Ftorek met Tuesday.
“Hopefully, it’s over,” Nicholls said Wednesday.
But he still seemed bitter.
“I’m the leading scorer, and if we’re tying games, 1-1, and people are wondering why we’re not scoring goals, it makes no sense to me to have me on the bench,” Nicholls said. “You’d think the general manager (Rogie Vachon) might step in and set (Ftorek) straight.”
Actually, Vachon did step in, but not on Nicholls’ behalf. He stood up in the team bus Tuesday in New York and spoke to the players.
And McNall said of Nicholls: “I don’t think he’s playing very well, either. You’ve got to respect what the coaches say. If you don’t, you’re going to be benched. That’s the bottom line to it all. Bernie didn’t do what they wanted, so he was benched. And it’s going to happen again, I suspect.”
Then the Kings, who held a players-only meeting after practice Tuesday, went out and limited the Sabres to 27 shots, the last eight of which were stopped by Hrudey after Pierre Turgeon gave Buffalo a 4-2 lead at 1:16 of the third period.
“It was a nice win for us,” said Wayne Gretzky, whose second-period goal and third-period assist gave him 1,809 career points, moving him to within 42 points of overtaking Gordie Howe as the National Hockey League’s all-time leading scorer. “We had to have it.”
Defenseman Steve Duchesne has agreed to terms of a four-year contract, retroactive to the start of the season, said his agent, Ron Salcer. No terms of the contract were released, but Salcer said: “It’s going to make Steve one of the highest-paid defensemen in the National Hockey League.” Salcer, in fact, said that only four NHL defensemen will be paid more than Duchesne, who is the No. 4 scorer among the league’s defensemen.
Owner Bruce McNall, on Coach Robbie Ftorek: “It isn’t easy to meld all these people together. We’ve got so many chiefs. We’ve got so many guys who are stars or were stars. Melding them into a team is not the easiest thing in the world. It concerns me that they don’t want to play. They want to complain. They’re here to play hockey. I’ll worry about the coach.”
With 140 points in 64 games, Wayne Gretzky has passed 224 players to move into 28th place on the Kings’ all-time scoring list. Only five of his current teammates--Dave Taylor, Bernie Nicholls, Jim Fox, Luc Robitaille and Duchesne--rank ahead of him.