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New coach Jim Hiller looks to help Los Angeles Kings regain their confidence

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Nashville Predators

Jan 31, 2024; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Los Angeles Kings players celebrate after a win against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Jim Hiller realizes he only has a little time to get Los Angeles’ season back on track. The one thing the Kings’ interim coach is hoping to do, though, is help his players regain confidence after struggling for the past month.

Hiller held his first practice as coach Thursday as the Kings returned from their All-Star break. It was the first time the team had been together since Todd McLellan was fired last Friday.

McLellan was let go midway through his fifth season behind the Kings’ bench after they won only three of their last 17 games.

“I know people probably are saying, what are tactics, and which things are going to change? The most important thing for me after being around the team, which played very well for the first 24 games, is getting our frame of mind back where it needs to be,” Hiller said. “Because if we can help those guys get back there, we’ll have time to implement some other changes that eventually you guys will say maybe they are doing something different.”

It’s also a full-circle moment for Hiller, who made his NHL debut as a player with the Kings in 1992 after being selected by them in the 10th round in 1989. Hiller was a head coach at the junior level for five seasons, but Saturday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers will be his first as an NHL head coach.

“I don’t know how many people have done that, but it’s pretty special to me,” Hiller said.

Los Angeles is in contention for a playoff spot, but doesn’t look like a Stanley Cup contender.

The Kings (23-15-10) hold the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference with 56 points, but are only four points from falling out.

Los Angeles had 44 points after 31 games, tied for the most in team history, before its 3-8-6 tailspin. That disappointing stretch included five one-goal losses in regulation or overtime.

“I’m sure it was a hard day for (general manager) Rob (Blake) to make that decision,” Kopitar said about McLellan’s dismissal. “I know it’s hard for us too (in the locker room) to see someone go who’s done so much for the organization and kind of turn it around the last couple years.

“Obviously, not the result we wanted in the playoffs (first-round losses to Edmonton the past two years), but we took a step forward.”

Kopitar and defenseman Drew Doughty said Hiller’s biggest strength is communication, especially with younger players.

Doughty also realizes there might not be time to make major changes with only two months remaining in the regular season.

“You can’t just go in and change everything because then we’ll probably drop a few games as we’re learning to do new things,” Doughty said. “We’re already on things we didn’t focus on too much before, which should help us get better.”

Doughty also hopes the time away benefitted the rest of his teammates.

“The first couple days into the break was one of the first times I wasn’t thinking about hockey and losing all those games. No matter where I was (before the break). I was always thinking about what we could do differently or why we weren’t winning,” he said. “We had unbelievable energy at practice, which was good. Everyone’s excited to be back.”