TORONTO - Despite being on the verge of getting their third coach in about a week, it's not all doom and gloom around the Los Angeles Kings these days.
In fact, there were plenty of smiles to be found before Monday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. Perhaps it was a sign that interim coach John Stevens was successful in his bid to relax his players with an ice cream run following Sunday's skate.
"We had a little challenge at the end of practice and we stopped at the Dairy Queen on the way home and losers had to buy the winners an ice cream of their choice," said Stevens. "Just something fun, something to occupy their time.
"They had a lot of fun with it and hopefully it lightened the mood."
Locked in a scoring drought, the Kings have been playing under a cloud for a month that resulted in coach Terry Murray being fired last week. Stevens replaced him on an interim basis while contract details could be finalized with Darryl Sutter, who will take over later in the week according to a league source.
It's an unusual situation—to say the least—but one the players seem to support.
"I think (GM) Dean (Lombardi) might have handled it right in not going behind Terry's back and try to look for a head coach," said forward Mike Richards. "He's a smart guy, we trust his instincts and trust what he's doing with the team. ...
"When Darryl comes in, it's just going to be new people and new faces. It's going to be a little bit of an adjustment."
Change has become the new normal for this team. Murray was fired in Boston at the outset of their four-game road trip and rumours have been flying around since, prompting Lombardi to meet with the players in Columbus and explain what was happening behind the scenes.
From there, they moved on to Detroit and got hammered 8-2.
"With all of these things happening, I think that everyone is so down emotionally that they're not focusing on their game and playing their best," said defenceman Drew Doughty. "Finally when we get over that hump, we should be fine."
Ultimately, it will be Sutter's job to lead them there. The soon-to-be coach has already cast quite a shadow—"He's going to bring character, he's going to bring an attitude that I think we need in here," said forward Jarret Stoll—despite never having addressed the players.
The arrival was delayed because Sutter needed to take care of affairs with his ranch and visa and contract issues had to be worked out. He's expected to be behind the bench for Thursday's home game against Anaheim.
The players are anxious to have the situation settled.
"I don't really know much about him, I heard he's a bit of a yeller and whatever," said Doughty. "I think that's a good thing. We need someone that's going to push us to get the best of us every night. I think he's going to be a great fit for our team and I'm really excited for him to come along whenever he gets here."
Many had Los Angeles pegged as a challenger in the Western Conference prior to the season, but they're now facing a fight just to make the playoffs.
On paper, they still look good enough to accomplish that task. They've just got to find a way to relax.
"It's always a game and we have fun playing it," said defenceman Jack Johnson. "It's not fun losing, believe me, but at the end of the day we get to go out and play. ... In the big picture, things aren't that bad."