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LA Kings fire coach Terry Murray after slow start @NHL

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The Los Angeles Kings fired coach Terry Murray on Monday after a slow start to a season of high expectations.

Murray was replaced by assistant coach John Stevens, who will be the Kings' interim head coach when they open a four-game road trip Tuesday in Boston.

Murray was behind the long-struggling Kings' bench for their best moments in the past decade, leading Los Angeles to consecutive playoff appearances after an eight-year absence.

He has the highest winning percentage (.560) of any coach in Los Angeles franchise history, but the Kings lost both of their first-round playoff series while under his direction.

Murray clearly has struggled to reach his current club, which is mired in mediocrity after entertaining hopes of contending for the Stanley Cup. Los Angeles has lost four straight games to drop to 13-12-4, culminating in a lifeless effort in a 2-1 home loss to Dallas last Saturday.

The Kings have sunk to 11th place in the Western Conference standings while managing just 65 goals, second-fewest in the NHL. Despite adding forwards Mike Richards and Simon Gagne in the offseason, Los Angeles is scoring an NHL-worst 2.24 goals per game, including just 13 in its last eight games.

Murray is the fifth coach to be fired already this season in the always-impatient NHL. He joins St. Louis' Davis Payne, Carolina's Paul Maurice, Washington's Bruce Boudreau and Anaheim's Randy Carlyle, who was replaced by Boudreau on Nov. 30.

Although Murray has a deserved reputation as an excellent defensive coach, he lost his job largely because the Kings have struggled to score goals despite boosting their payroll to its highest level in several years. Los Angeles general manager Dean Lombardi believes his club has the talent to compete with the NHL's best teams, but just three players have scored more than five goals this season, and most of the Kings' forwards are mired in miserable offensive seasons, including Justin Williams, Dustin Penner, captain Dustin Brown, Brad Richardson and Jarret Stoll.

Murray went 139-106-30 with the Kings after taking over the club in 2008. Los Angeles earned 46 victories - matching the franchise record for wins - in each of the past two seasons while racking up 199 total points, the most in any two-year stretch for the club.

Murray is one victory shy of 500 in a coaching career that also included stops with Washington, Florida and Philadelphia. But the 61-year-old's impassive, stone-faced demeanor behind the bench sometimes appeared to be reflected in his Kings, who showed little passion for long stretches of the season.

The Kings entered the season with championship expectations for a club built on a solid defensive system in front of goalie Jonathan Quick. Los Angeles has an impressive corps of defensemen around prodigy Drew Doughty, who held out through training camp to get a $56 million contract, and Jack Johnson, but that defensive toughness hasn't been bolstered by offensive proficiency, with the Kings acknowledging they frequently play ugly hockey.

Murray was under contract through next season.

Stevens, Murray's longtime associate and the Philadelphia Flyers' former coach, joined the Kings' staff before last season. He is the 23rd head coach in Kings history.

He led the Flyers to the Eastern Conference finals in 2008, but Philadelphia fired him the following season. He might not be a long-term candidate for the job if the Kings are looking for a change of pace from the two coaches' similar styles.

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