In a Slump, Dafoe Tries to Stay Upbeat


King goaltender Kelly Hrudey has the league’s best save percentage, .943, and his goals-against average of 2.19 ranks second, behind the 1.91 by Detroit’s Chris Osgood.

Then there is the other King goaltender, Byron Dafoe, who has not won a game since beating Winnipeg on Dec. 6. He has made four appearances since then and was pulled at Calgary and Edmonton, going 0-3 in that stretch. His goals-against average is 3.55 and his save percentage .902. Dafoe’s difficulties certainly don’t remind anyone of Grant Fuhr’s major problems last season, but Dafoe clearly is struggling.

“Everyone here has kept so upbeat, it kept me from stringing a noose in the bathroom,” Dafoe said. “You try to leave the game at the rink. But lying in bed at night, it’s not easy. It wears on you.”


King Coach Larry Robinson said, “He’s lost a bit of confidence, that’s what has gone down a little bit. Once I get into a decent rotation, I would have a tendency to come back with a guy who had a bad game. That’s one of the things I toyed with after Edmonton. But it was a big game [against the Ducks at Anaheim] and not the time to be second-guessing.”

The Kings, involved in a tight playoff race, don’t have the luxury of experimenting. And the combination has pushed Hrudey back to the forefront, where he has been most of the time since the Kings acquired him in the 1988-89 season.

Hrudey’s play improved after Fuhr arrived last season. Now, Dafoe’s downward spiral is coinciding with another uptick by Hrudey, who is putting up some of his best numbers in years. Robinson said Hrudey will play tonight against Winnipeg, his fourth start in the last five games. Dafoe may play Friday at San Jose.

Some have suggested that Dafoe started struggling after Hrudey returned from his ankle injury on Nov. 22.

“People have said that before; I don’t know why,” Dafoe said. “I was looking forward to [Hrudey’s return]. [But] it’s tough not to play. When you have time off, you think about it too much.”

Robinson remains confident.

“I still believe in both my goalies,” he said. “Without them, we wouldn’t even be close.”

King Notes

Wayne Gretzky said Tuesday that he and his agent would probably sit down with the team’s owners and discuss his future after the Kings’ next Eastern trip, which ends Jan. 14. Gretzky isn’t the only player in the last year of his contract. Others are forwards Jari Kurri and Tony Granato, and goaltender Kelly Hrudey.