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Kings: Darryl Sutter puts on the badge

12/20/2011

There’s a new King in town.

The Darryl Sutter era has begun in Los Angeles, where he’s scheduled to conduct his first practice as head coach of the dysfunctional Kings on Wednesday morning at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo.

Sutter was officially named the 24th coach in franchise history Tuesday, a purely obligatory move after word of his hiring filtered out late last week while the team was on a four-game road trip.

Sutter, 53, takes over for John Stevens, who coached four games on an interim basis after Terry Murray was fired Dec. 12.

Having been away from the NHL for 12 months, Sutter inherits a franchise that, thus far this season, has fallen far short of expectations. Last in the NHL in scoring, the team hasn’t generated more than two goals in a game in the last 12. Every player seems to be stuck in one of the worst scoring slumps of his career.

Heading into Tuesday’s games, the Kings (15-14-4) were 10th in the Western Conference standings and likely need to win about 60 percent of their remaining games for a shot at making the playoffs for a third straight season.

In other words, Sutter had his work cut out for him.

When it comes to coaching changes in the NHL, the choice of Sutter by Kings general manager Dean Lombardi seems to have caused more debate than usual. The main complaint is Sutter’s similarities with Murray, both in terms of system and structure. In his previous nine seasons as head coach in Chicago, San Jose and Calgary, Sutter became known for his rugged, defensive-minded teams. Only once did his team finish in the top half of the league in scoring.

Isn’t that the type of coach Lombardi just showed the door?

The difference between Murray and Sutter might just come down to the ability to extract a 60-minute effort from individual players. Murray was a calm, gentlemanly-type of coach whose voice rarely elevated during practice.

There were no glares, no scowls, no angry looks. The referees probably loved working Kings’ games.

Players might feel differently with Sutter behind the bench. He can be harsh, demanding and impatient with mistakes. Put it this way, in the span of two weeks, the Kings have gone from having a teacher in the classroom, to a substitute teacher and now the vice principal.

If this doesn’t get their attention, nothing will.

The Kings have the talent to score more goals than they do, especially once Mike Richards returns from a concussion. They might just need a refresher course in, say, ‘effort plus execution equals success.’

We’ll know beginning Thursday when the Kings host the Ducks, another franchise that’s trying to turn their season around with a different message coming from the dressing room.