After sitting out the postseason for a fifth straight time, the Los Angeles Kings made a few significant moves - most notably the hiring of a new coach - to improve their chances in 2008-09.
Behind Terry Murray, the Kings take their first step toward ending their playoff drought on Saturday with a road matchup versus the San Jose Sharks.
Los Angeles hasn't reached the playoffs since 2001-02, and faltered again last season after tying Tampa Bay for the fewest points (71) in the NHL. That resulted in the dismissal of coach Marc Crawford.
With hopes of turning the franchise's recent fate around, the Kings hired Murray in July.
Murray guided Philadelphia to the Stanley Cup finals in 1996-97, and had been an assistant with the Flyers since 2003-04. He hasn't been a head coach since he was fired by Florida during the 2000-01 season.
"I'm coming into this job with my eyes wide open," Murray said at the time of his hiring. "We have some very good young hockey players in this organization right now. This is a very difficult league to play in; this is a man's league. We're young, we're going to get younger."
Aside from hiring Murray, general manager Dean Lombardi also spent the offseason improving his roster.
One of the Kings' biggest struggles was its defense, which allowed the third-most goals (263) and was a league-worst on the penalty kill (78.0 percent).
"The bulk is a very important part of it, big players that can handle low play, front of the net play," Murray told the Kings' official Web site. "The NHL is really letting the competition continue again, battling is a part of the game again in those situations. Those (bigger) guys have an edge."
An unsettled goaltending situation resulted in seven players sharing the duties last season, but the Kings will split the work between Jason LaBarbera - 17-23-2 with a 3.00 goals-against average in 45 games - and Erik Ersberg, who went 6-5-3 with a 2.48 GAA in 14 contests as a rookie in 2007-08.
While Los Angeles struggled to keep opposing teams off the scoresheet, the Kings scored 226 goals thanks to a core of young forwards led by 21-year-old center Anze Kopitar.
Kopitar - the 11th overall pick in 2005 - collected a team-high 77 points with career highs in goals (32) and assists (45) in his second season. Right wing and new captain Dustin Brown turned in a breakout year in which he led the club with 33 goals and was third with 60 points.
Los Angeles also saw left wing Alexander Frolov total 23 goals and 67 points, and center Patrick O'Sullivan amass single-season bests in goals (21) and points (53).
"I think our offense will take care of itself," Brown said. "We need to take care of our own end. We will have specific guidelines within our defensive zone. I think the players will be very accepting of improving our defensive game. We all want to win."
While Los Angeles has yet to take the ice this season, defending Pacific Division champion San Jose posted a 4-1 home victory over Anaheim in its opener on Thursday, giving coach Todd McLellan a win in his debut with the club.
"I don't know if there's anything close to a perfect game, but it was a nice feeling when the buzzer went," said McLellan, who took over following Ron Wilson's four-year tenure at the helm.
Jonathan Cheechoo scored twice, second-year star Devin Setoguchi had a goal and an assist and Milan Michalek added two assists for the Sharks, who aim for more offensive production after finishing 19th in the NHL with 216 goals last season.
"You look how talented and fast our forwards are, and our job is to get the puck in their hands and then follow the play," said 18-year veteran defenseman Rob Blake, who contributed two assists in his first game with the Sharks.
San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov took a shutout into the third period and finished with 28 saves to improve to 16-1-1 with a 1.85 GAA over his last 20 regular-season contests. He is 17-6-1 with a tie and a 1.98 ERA in his last 26 games versus Los Angeles.
The Sharks posted a 4-3-1 mark against the Kings in 2007-08.