Detroit's Niklas Kronwall checks Jarret Stoll into goalie Jimmy… (Dave Sandford / Getty Images )
This was as thorough a beating as the Kings have absorbed in a while, a performance that went from abysmal to grotesque as they allowed the Detroit Red Wings to collect a season's worth of highlight-film moments in 60 playing minutes.
The Kings' 8-2 loss at Joe Louis Arena, their sixth defeat in seven games, represented a season-worst in goals against and lack of passion. Darryl Sutter, confirmed Saturday as their next coach by a source familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly, is facing a bigger job than he might have imagined.
Sutter, who agreed to a multiyear contract and will make his bench debut Thursday, will inherit a team that has produced two goals or fewer in 11 straight games but has usually been competitive. That illusion was smashed Saturday by the efficient, precise-passing Red Wings.
"I'm surprised they didn't get to 10, to be honest with you," center Jarret Stoll said.
He added that it shouldn't take such an abject failure to stir players' anger. "We should look at the standings and see where we are and realize we're not even close to where we want to be," he said.
Apparently that hasn't registered. Their popgun offense meant they were done when Detroit scored its third goal, at 8:32 of the opening period, and chased goaltender Jonathan Quick.
Team captain Dustin Brown, usually a quiet leader, almost quivered with rage while acknowledging the Kings had been thrashed. "And there's really no excuse. It's time for everyone in this room to wake up," he said.
Interim Coach John Stevens, who's 1-2 since replacing Terry Murray and has one game left Monday at Toronto, said he thought his team might have had a chance if it had held firm after Stoll picked up a loose puck and cut Detroit's lead to 4-2 at 11:03 of the second period. Henrik Zetterberg's beautiful backhander at 12:06 and Pavel Datsyuk's dance behind the defense for a close-range goal at 19:38 quashed that optimism.
Foolish optimism, really, to expect a comeback from the NHL's lowest-scoring team, a group that has not scored five goals since Nov. 17.
"It's gone from an acute problem to a chronic problem," Stevens said of the stagnant offense. "We need to figure out ways to fix it. But we can't get away from playing good defense."
They got away from that immediately Saturday. A turnover led to Drew Miller's first goal, off a rebound, at 1:45. A bungled pass from Quick to his defense turned into the first of Cory Emmerton's two goals, a deflection at the two-minute mark. Niklas Kronwall made it 3-0 on a blast into the upper-right corner at 8:32, leading Stevens to call time out and substitute Jonathan Bernier for Quick.
Davis Drewiske's second goal in two games cut the Kings' deficit to 3-1, but Emmerton, in the slot, made it 4-1. Stoll gave Stevens that flash of hope, but it was all Detroit from there, as the Red Wings won their 10th straight home game.
"We've got to find ways to be a lot better than we were tonight," Brown said. "With everything that's gone on, guys have got to take responsibility in here because it doesn't matter whether Stevens is our coach or whoever they're bringing in.
"It doesn't make a difference who the coach is. It's going to be the players that play the games, and it's going to be the players that need to take responsibility."
Veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi said the state of limbo shouldn't have an adverse effect.
"I certainly hope not. We're professionals. There's still a job to do," he said. "I can only speak for myself. When the puck drops and you're playing hockey, you're not thinking about the coaching change. I'm thinking about what my responsibility is to do on the ice.
"Maybe we don't have enough guys that are doing that. I'm not sure what the case is. But certainly tonight, you look at just flat-out mistakes that cost us goals and that's something that bad teams do."
The Kings were expected to be a good team this season. Very good, by many projections.
Sutter is skilled at getting a lot out of players, but he's about to take on a monumental challenge.