Anze Kopitar says Kings are ‘not playing as a team right now’

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There’s no bigger insult in hockey than to be accused of being selfish. Putting personal interests ahead of the good of the group goes against the culture of the sport, contradicting the unwritten code that success is built with a united front and can’t come from a bunch of self-absorbed individuals who happen to wear the same uniform. That team-first ethic is one of the beautiful aspects of a sometimes brutal sport.

So it had the impact of a booming slap shot off the glass when Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, clearly upset and typically honest after they had blown a two-goal lead in a 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday, said self-interest has been at the evil root of a swoon in which they’ve lost 12 of their past 14 games.

“I think we got guys in this room who are too worried about themselves and worried about their points and worried about stuff like that,” Doughty said after they finished a 1-2-1 homestand at Arena to bring their home record down to 8-9-6.

“We get a 3-1 lead tonight and guys start thinking it’s a cookie night and we stop playing the way we know how to play, have an awful second period, and then aren’t much better in the third.

“It’s about the team. It’s not about yourself, and a lot of guys on this team need to realize that.”

That sentiment was echoed by team captain Anze Kopitar, who was honored before the game for having become the franchise leader in games played earlier this season, among other milestones he has reached.

“What I see is we’re not playing as a team right now. Worry about scoring goals too much and not buying into the stuff that made us successful the first 30, 35 games of the year, and it’s frustrating,” said Kopitar, who scored the Kings’ first goal, in the first period, by redirecting a pass from Adrian Kempe. “We’re going to have to correct it, and we’re going to have to correct it in a hurry.”

Doughty said it’s “not a large chunk” of the team that’s a problem. And neither he nor Kopitar would name names.

But it’s easy to round up the usual culprits, such as ghastly giveaways by Kevin Fiala, gaffes on faceoff plays, and disinterested play by Pierre-Luc Dubois — though Dubois did score a power-play goal that gave them that 3-1 lead at 9:44 of the first period.

Add an ongoing goaltending problem — this was the third straight start in which starter Cam Talbot gave up five goals — and a team that had Stanley Cup aspirations is now struggling to stay afloat.

“We’re maybe not playing our best, but the stupidity that went into that loss is beyond explainable,” coach Todd McLellan said. “I could come up here and tell you, ‘Hey in the past we’ve been close, maybe we didn’t get some luck around the net,’ but I haven’t, until now, been able to come in and say, ‘Boy, we played really dumb.’ And that’s what we did.”

Neither Kopitar nor Doughty blamed McLellan for what’s going so terribly wrong. Still, it’s easier to fire the coach than fire an entire team, especially when blame for the construction of the team should fall on general manager Rob Blake.

With no resolution in sight and with the Kings clinging to a wild-card playoff spot, even McLellan acknowledged it was reasonable to wonder whether he will be behind the bench Friday, when the Kings open a three-game trip that will take them into the All-Star break.

“If I was sitting in your seat and you were standing up here I would ask you about it,” he said to the assembled reporters. “I’m responsible for this. And when you look at the team that played the first 25, 30 games, it doesn’t look like the team that’s playing right now and I’m responsible for it.

“Our staff is doing what we can or what we believe we can to get them to turn it around. We’re trying different things at different times. I’m going to keep pushing away. I’m going to try to push buttons, poke people, praise people, look at how we do things. Our numbers, our underlying numbers, say we’re more of the first-half team than the second-half team, but the win column doesn’t say that, and that’s all that matters.”

What matters is getting back to the kind of team play that wins games.

“It’s not about the coaching staff. It’s about the players. I think the coaches on our team have done a great job. They always inform us with every single situation possible. They prepare us perfectly. It’s not about them,” Doughty said. “It’s all about the players in here. No matter what they do, if we don’t perform on the ice, we ain’t going to get wins, and we all know that in here. If anyone is questioning that, then that’s probably why we’re losing games, if people are questioning that.”

Again, Kopitar agreed. “It comes down to this room. They give us the plan, they give us the structure, they give us the motivation or the kick in the ass,” he said of the coaching staff. “It is what it is. It’s about the guys that have to bring it out on the ice, and make things happen.”

Doughty said he and other players have spoken up in the locker room but added, “Sometimes when you talk a lot like me it’s hard to get through to guys.” McLellan said he and the coaches have held individual and team meetings in an effort to jolt players out of this, but so far, nothing has worked.

If they can’t realize they’re letting this season slip away, if they don’t care enough to change that, they’re cheating their fans and themselves.

McLellan said he has spoken to the team about his experience as an assistant coach of the 2008 Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, who had a 1-8-2 slump at one point of that season. “But what we had going there is we found a way to pull ourselves out. We still haven’t done that here,” he said.

“And I’m not saying if we do, we’re a Stanley Cup team. Right now, we’re not. We’re not even close. But we have to find ways to pull ourselves out and we’ve got to find some other things to pull out of the hat here to convince players to play a certain way. That’s on us.”

Or soon, fair or not, it will be the responsibility of a different coaching staff. And maybe a different general manager, too.

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