EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Rob Ftorek, who has a reputation as a voracious ice cream eater, took to the rocky road as coach of the Kings Wednesday night.
And in front of his former players, who bused down from New Haven, Conn., and his wife, Wendy, he could do little more than look on and hope for better days ahead as an all-too-familiar defensive shortcoming spoiled his National Hockey League debut.
The New Jersey Devils scored twice on uncontested rebounds to beat the Kings, 2-1, before a crowd of 8,413 at the Brendan Byrne Arena.
"You've got to take away those second shots," said Ftorek, who officially took over earlier in the day for Mike Murphy. "If you don't, the goaltender is at the mercy of the shooters."
Murphy, who was fired Sunday, had said the same thing for the last two months.
The loss was the fifth straight for the Kings, equaling their longest losing streak of the season. They are 0-6-1 since beating the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 25.
Still, Ftorek said he was pleased with what he saw.
Goaltender Glenn Healy, who was pulled from his last start after giving up 8 goals in 24 shots against Calgary on Nov. 28, made several key saves, perhaps preventing a more lopsided loss.
Mostly, though, Ftorek liked the Kings' enthusiasm.
"I liked the grit and determination that came out," he said.
Although Murphy was fired, team officials said, because the Kings' record of 7-18-4 is the worst in the NHL, Ftorek said he feels no urgency to turn things around immediately.
"I feel as though we've just got to play as well as we can and win games as we can win them," he said. "We played very well tonight.
"If we play that well, with that effort, and improve upon some of the things we didn't do as well as we would have liked, we'll win more games."
Thanks to Healy, who won 21 games under Ftorek last season for the Kings' American Hockey League affiliate at New Haven, they might have at least tied this one against a team whose 12-1-1 home record is the best in the NHL.
After killing three straight penalties in the last 11:11, the Kings were awarded a manpower advantage of their own with 3:09 left when Craig Wolanin was called for cross-checking Bob Carpenter.
And they appeared to get a good chance, too, with 1:20 left when a shot from the left circle by Bernie Nicholls deflected to Paul Fenton, who was alone in front of the net.
But Fenton, who said later that he never saw it, swung and missed the puck as it slid through his legs.
"It went off something and through a couple of legs," Fenton said. "I just swung at it as it went by in case it stopped. I never saw the thing until it was through my legs."
Fenton was one of several players who said there seemed to be a new energy among the Kings, which was probably understandable, considering that it was their first game under Ftorek.
"I don't think you can ever put it all behind you," Fenton said of the Kings' disappointing first one-third of the season, "but I think that's just about what we have to do in the position we're in. This was a good start."
The Kings fell behind, 2-0, giving up a power-play goal to Doug Sulliman with 7:59 left in the first period and an even-strength goal to Mark Johnson with 17:24 left in the second.
Both goals were scored after Healy had made a save.
Healy, who faced 31 shots, held the Devils scoreless the rest of the way, and the Kings made it 2-1 on Carpenter's power-play goal with 16:59 left.
"I'm not going to say there was a drastic improvement in the way we played defensively," Healy said, "because they did have some chances to score.
"But there were only a few 2-on-1s and 3-on-2s. It wasn't an end-to-end practice drill."
That's a start.
"We still have some things to correct," Ftorek said, "but the guys were working and if you work, things are going to turn out OK.
"What we're going to have to do is work on a few situations that come up in the defensive zone. We worked on them in practice and we've talked about them, but those things have to become second nature to our guys."