LANDOVER, Md. — A coaching change was of no immediate benefit to the Kings, who were bombarded by the Washington Capitals, 10-3, Sunday night before a crowd of 10,321 at the Capital Center.
The Capital punishment included six third-period goals on seven shots, including five by the Capitals on their first five shots of the period.
Less than five hours after being gathered in the hotel room of General Manager Rogie Vachon and told that Coach Mike Murphy had been fired, the Kings were an easy mark for the Capitals.
Vachon filled in behind the bench. Vachon was unbeaten at 1-0-1 in his previous stint as interim coach in the 1983-84 season but he could do little to prevent a fourth straight loss for the Kings, who fell deeper into the Smythe Division cellar.
Mike Ridley, Dale Hunter, Kevin Hatcher and Dave Christian each scored two goals for the Capitals, who had been averaging only 3.2 goals a game, and Scott Stevens had a club-record five assists.
"They looked ready physically but I guess emotionally they were not there," Vachon said of the Kings. "We were very confused. We didn't cover the right men and we gave up a lot of easy goals.
"Unfortunately, we told them of Murphy's firing a little late this afternoon and obviously they didn't get ready in the proper way for tonight.
"We were making bad mistakes, bad decisions all night. It cost us all kinds of goals."
The Kings, whose 7-17-4 record is the worst in the National Hockey League, are 0-5-1 since beating the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 25.
"Most teams, when a coach gets fired, they come out and at least have a good stretch," Jimmy Carson of the Kings said. "We were brutal. There were no signs of anything out there. What's our goals-against average?"
It's 5.03, which ranks at the bottom of the National Hockey League, but in the last month, the Kings have been even worse defensively. In their last 13 games, they've allowed 81 goals, an average of 6.2 goals a game.
"That's brutal," Carson said. "That's just terrible."
Asked if the players felt responsible for Murphy's fate, Carson said: "There's no question about it. That's everyone's thought in the locker room right now. We had such high hopes for this team.
"The worst thing is that there's not even a sign that the team is improving. There's no spark. I don't know what I can foresee for this team. I just don't know. It's not a lack of talent. It's not a lack of coaching. But there is a lack of something. "I'm glad I'm not the coach. I don't think I'd accept the job if they asked me. We're just brutal."
Melanson, making his first start in goal since the recall last week of Bob Janecyk from the Kings' American Hockey League affiliate at New Haven, Conn., faced only 11 shots in the last two periods, but gave up 7 goals.
In his last start, a 7-6 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets last Tuesday at the Forum, he allowed 5 goals in 12 shots before being lifted less than halfway through the second period.
While most of the players admitted it had been an emotional day, Melanson said he was ready to play.
"We're all fighting for our jobs," he said. "It's not a pleasant situation for anybody."
Other players feel threatened, too.
"The coach gets fired and we're not anywhere near even being in the game," said Jay Wells, who returned to the lineup after missing three games with a bruised back. "They can't keep firing coaches. Pretty soon, it falls down on the players.
"If they can send the coach on his way, they can send the players."
It doesn't get any easier for the Kings. Wednesday night, they play the New Jersey Devils at East Rutherford, N.J., where the Devils are 11-1-1 this season, and Thursday night, they play at Boston, where they haven't won in the last six seasons. . . . The Capitals, who improved to 12-12-2, scored their previous season high Oct. 16 in a 6-2 win over Hartford, and had scored as many as five goals only one time since. They had scored only 37 goals in their previous 13 games. . . . Rollie Melanson's goals-against average of 5.05 and save percentage of .843 during November were the worst in the National Hockey League. Before Sunday, Melanson was 12-3-1 against the Capitals. . . . Washington goaltender Clint Malarchuk, acquired in a trade last summer from the Quebec Nordiques, improved his record against the Kings to 5-0. . . . Bernie Nicholls scored two goals for the Kings, including his fourth short-handed goal in eight games. . . . The crowd of 10,321 was the Capitals' smallest of the season. . . . Mark Hardy was hit by a puck on his left cheek in the second period and was taken for X-rays, missing the remainder of the game. . . . Pete Demers, who is in his 16th season as the Kings' trainer: "Mike Murphy had as much, or more character than any coach who ever walked through my door." . . . Dave Taylor, who joined the team when Murphy was still captain, said the players sensed that a change was imminent. "You know the owners aren't going to stand by and let the team go into a hole," he said.