GAME: Los Angeles Kings (28-29-16-9) at Dallas Stars (41-26-13-2).
TIME: Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. EDT.
Amid a handful of roster changes, the Los Angeles Kings are taking the biggest risk in goal.
The retooled Kings will be counting on a pair of inexperienced goalies when they open the season with a road matchup against the Dallas Stars.
Mathieu Garon and backup Jason LaBarbera will handle the goaltending duties for the Kings despite having a combined total of 48 NHL games. However, Los Angeles' front office is willing to give them a chance even after recent changes set forth by the league to facilitate higher-scoring games.
"We have a lot of confidence in their ability," Los Angeles general manager Dave Taylor said. "We think they can stop the puck and win hockey games for us, and we feel that we're ready for the opportunity. They don't have a lot of NHL experience, but they're going to get it this year."
Garon, 27, has spent parts of four seasons with Montreal as the backup to Jose Theodore, posting an 8-6-2 record and a 2.27 goals-against average in 19 games in 2003-04. Garon was outstanding with Manchester of the AHL in 2004-05, going 31-16-2 with a 2.12 GAA and a .927 save percentage.
The 25-year-old LaBarbera, a free-agent signing, was equally impressive in the AHL. He was the top goalie for Hartford in 2003-04, posting a league-leading 1.59 GAA and 13 shutouts for the New York Rangers' top affiliate. Last year, he had a 1.84 GAA with six shutouts, earning league MVP honors.
Los Angeles, which ended the 2003-04 season with an 11-game losing streak, added forwards Jeremy Roenick, Pavol Demitra and Valeri Bure to bolster the offense. Craig Conroy, who helped Calgary to within one win of the Stanley Cup in 2004, also makes his debut with the Kings after signing a four-year, $12.6 million contract as an unrestricted free agent.
Roenick, who had four goals and nine assists in 18 playoff games for Philadelphia in 2003-04, should be ready for the opener after sustaining his 11th career concussion on Sept. 25.
"We've got a lot of skill players and we're going to be dangerous every time we step on the ice," said Luc Robitaille, beginning his 19th NHL season and 14th with the Kings. "When you've got four or five guys who can put the puck in the net, it makes a big difference."
Coach Andy Murray is hoping all the changes to the roster will help the Kings get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
"We've lost some leadership, but we feel that we've added some as well," Murray said. "I think we have a higher skill level, but the jury's still out on whether we've put the right mix together."
Dallas managed to keep most of its team intact while many rosters changed drastically due to the league's new salary cap. The Stars will still rely on All-Star forwards Mike Modano and Bill Guerin, and standout goaltender Marty Turco, who was second in wins (37) and third in GAA (1.98) and shutouts (9) in 2003-04.
Modano initially turned down the Stars before signing a five year, $17.5 million deal with the team for which he is the career leader in goals, points, assists and games played.
However, the 35-year-old captain looks to bounce back from a disappointing season in 2003-04, when he had 14 goals, half the total of the previous season, and 30 assists.
Dallas, which has won six Pacific Division titles in the last eight seasons, had one of the league's highest payrolls in 2003-04, but was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
"There were apparently chemistry problems on the ice, even when we were playing well," said Guerin, the team leader in goals and points that season. "It wasn't easy. It was a grind, it was a struggle.
"Hopefully, this year we can have a strong enough chemistry where we can put together more strings like that where it feels like it's not such a grind."
2003-04 STANDINGS: Kings - 81 points, 3rd place, 7 PB, Pacific Division. Stars - 97 points, 2nd place, 23 PB, Pacific Division.
2003-04 TEAM LEADERS: Kings - Alexander Frolov, 24 goals; Robitaille, 29 assists and 51 points; Sean Avery, 261 PIM. Stars - Guerin, 34 goals and 69 points; Jason Arnott, 36 assists; Steve Ott, 152 PIM.
2003-04 SPECIAL TEAMS: Kings - Power play: 14.0 percent (50 for 356), 27th in NHL. Penalty killing: 80.7 percent (271 for 336), 28th. Stars - Power play: 15.8 percent (52 for 328), 19th. Penalty killing: 85.8 percent (267 for 311), 4th.
2003-04 GOALTENDERS: Kings - Roman Cechmanek (18-21-6, 5 SO, 2.51 GAA); Cristobal Huet (10-16-10, 3, 2.43). Stars - Turco (37-21-13, 9, 1.98); Ron Tugnutt (3-7-0, 1, 2.41).
2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Tied, 2-2-2-0.
LAST MEETING: Feb. 25, 2004; Tied, 1-1. At Dallas, Frolov scored for the Kings with 5:55 left in regulation.
2003-04 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Kings - 13-17-7-8 on the road; Stars - 26-7-8-0 at home.