HARTFORD, Conn. — How best to describe a five-game trip by the Kings that ended with Saturday night's 3-2 loss to the Hartford Whalers before a crowd of 14,227 at the Hartford Civic Center?
"A complete failure," said Jay Wells, who inadvertently knocked the puck into the Kings' net midway through the second period, providing the Whalers with the game-winning goal.
The Kings, who were 0-5 on the trip, are 0-8-1 since beating the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 25, have lost seven straight games and are 0-3 under new Coach Rob Ftorek.
They are so desperate for a win, in fact, that with 2:14 left, they asked referee Rob Shick to measure the stick of Hartford goaltender Mike Liut.
They already knew that the blade of Liut's stick was wider than the allowable 3 1/2 inches, Rollie Melanson having measured it earlier in the day at the Kings' practice.
"I found it lying on the bench," Melanson said. "Whenever anybody is stupid enough to leave it around, you've got to measure it."
Melanson gave the information to Ftorek, who kept it in the back of his mind until after Luc Robitaille had scored his 17th goal, pulling the Kings within 3-2 with 5:52 left.
"We were holding that in the bank," Ftorek said. "We wouldn't have used it unless we had an opportunity to try to take advantage of it."
With 3:36 left and Larry Playfair headed to the penalty box for holding Hartford's Kevin Dineen, Ftorek called time out. He told the Kings that near the end of the Whaler advantage, he would ask for the measurement, which would result in a minor penalty.
"In our position, you've got to cheat your way into a win," Melanson said.
It was a wise move.
But like everything else the Kings have tried lately, the tactic failed.
The penalty was called, and Liut had to use a different stick.
But during a power play that lasted 1 minute 22 seconds, the Kings got only one shot on goal, a Dave Taylor attempt from the right circle that Liut stopped with his left leg.
It was the Kings' third straight one-goal defeat under Ftorek, who nevertheless said that he has liked what he's seen so far.
"You need to win to survive, of course," he said, "but if I see things progressing in a forward direction, then I've got to be satisfied with the end result. Maybe satisfied isn't the right word, but I'm certainly not going to be down, because I feel we're playing pretty good hockey."
Indeed, the Kings seem to be more determined defensively.
Hartford, which has won its last four games to even its record at 12-12-4, erased a 1-0 deficit with well-executed goals by Mike Millar, who one-timed a pass from Paul MacDermid, and Ron Francis, who redirected a shot by Ulf Samuelsson as Jimmy Carson attempted to check him.
The Whalers made it 3-1 with 10:59 left in the second period on the mistake by Wells, who lost control of the puck as he attempted to clear the rebound of a shot by the Whalers' Dave Babych.
As he turned to make a move, Wells said, the puck got away from him and slid through the legs of King goaltender Bob Janecyk.
Babych was credited with the goal.
"It's kind of a hopeless feeling," Wells said. "If I would have done the simple thing by dumping it into the corner and taking my man. . . . I guess you learn from your mistakes."
If so, the Kings have a lot to chew on. Their record, worst in the National Hockey League, is 7-20-4.
But after giving up 81 goals in their previous 13 games, the NHL's most generous team has allowed only 9 in 3 games under Ftorek.
They're guardedly optimistic.
"We've looked good," Jim Fox said, "but we've got nothing to show for it."
Up next for the Kings are games at the Forum Wednesday and next Saturday nights against Edmonton and Calgary, against whom they are a combined 0-4-1. . . . Rob Ftorek, who grew up in Needham, Mass., and coached the Kings' American Hockey League affiliate at New Haven, Conn., for 2 1/2 seasons, granted several interview requests in his first week on the job. "It will be good to get away because then I can relax a little bit," he said. "It's been really hectic. There's been a lot of attention from the press. You like it to a certain extent, but you want to keep your mind on the game and you want to be around the players a little bit more. At least I do.". . . . Bob Carpenter, who said he was cross-checked by Kevin Dineen, injured his right shoulder in the second period. Carpenter, who did not play in the third period, will have his shoulder examined Monday by team physician Dr. Steve Lombardo. . . . Wayne McBean, who is expected to join the Canadian junior team this week for the junior world championships at Moscow Dec. 26-Jan. 4, played after being scratched from the last two games. . . . Hartford's Doug Jarvis, whose NHL record for consecutive games played reached 964 two months ago, was assigned to the Whalers' American Hockey League affiliate at Binghamton, N.Y. Jarvis had not played since the streak ended in October.