Andy Murray, fired as the Kings' coach with 12 games left last season and hired last month by the foundering St. Louis Blues, wasn't sure what kind of reception he'd get upon his return to Staples Center.
"You'd like to think that people appreciated how hard you worked at the job, but I can't control that," he said. "Usually my uncle was here from Palm Springs, so I always counted on one or two fans. He's not here tonight."
Murray need not have worried.
He couldn't take more than a few steps down the corridor outside the teams' locker rooms Thursday without being hailed by a security guard, member of the icemaking crew or other familiar face. Also there to greet him was broadcaster Bob Miller, who gave him a package wrapped in silver foil. It was a container of chocolate sauce made by Miller's wife, Judy, her traditional Christmas gift to club employees.
The gift was uncannily appropriate. The Kings were cupcakes and the Blues' 3-1 victory, their 11th in their last 15 games, was the cherry on top of Murray's happy return.
The pre-game announcement of Murray's name drew a smattering of applause from the few dozen early-arriving fans. His reception was slightly warmer -- and the crowd only slightly bigger -- during the first period when his image was projected onto the center-ice scoreboard above the message, "Thank you Andy for 7 years of tireless effort and dedication to the Kings."
Murray, of course, didn't look up. "I wish I'd seen it," he said. "I would have acknowledged the fans. I apologize for that."
His focus was on the ice, his hands and head vibrating with intensity, symbolic of his virtues and failings during the club-record 480 games he coached the Kings, winning more games than any other Kings coach -- 215 -- but also losing more, 176.
Murray worked hard, and he's the first to say so. He didn't know when to stop pushing or vary his message to freshen it and keep players engaged and motivated.
He said he hasn't changed his philosophy with his new team, which was 0-2-2 in his first four games and 11-2-2 since. He doesn't require injured players to report at 7 a.m. and depart before the rest of the team arrives to practice, a rule the Kings despised, but that's only because the Blues' practice facility can't accommodate it.
Nonetheless, Ray Bennett, his assistant with the Kings and now with the Blues, said Murray recognized that he had to heal psyches that were damaged during the Blues' horrible start.
Murray hasn't put his hammer away, but he's more discerning in deciding when to pound and when to tap.
"It's trying to re-establish a belief in the guys, and to do that, you can't be critical all the time. You can't be," Bennett said. "You're trying to help them and move them along, as opposed to trying to be hard on them to correct things.
"I think the circumstances, coming in the middle of the year and trying to deal with what was going on in St. Louis in terms of the losing and trying to re-establish a culture, I think he's really leaned on the veteran guys here and given them responsibility back and really expected a lot of them."
Those veterans have responded admirably. On Thursday, 37-year-old Dallas Drake scored twice and 36-year-old Bill Guerin scored once as the Blues outplayed the goaltending-challenged Kings with ease. Afterward, Drake gave Murray the game puck.
Doug Weight, a day short of his 37th birthday, credited Murray for "an enormous amount" of the Blues' improvement.
"From the first minute here he stated one thing to us: We've got a great team, we've underachieved to this point. We shouldn't have any excuses for where we were in the standings," said Weight, who had an assist Thursday.
"He looked up and down our lineup and talked about it. He thinks we're a playoff team. He believes in us, and that strength and that confidence have streaked through this room really fast. This team believes in our system, believes in how we're playing, believes in each other. It's finding accountability with everything we do."
They're also accountable for memorizing the strategy sheets Murray slips under the doors of players' hotel rooms, as he did for the disenchanted Kings.
"It's funny," Weight said. "You get in here and you've got to know what answers to certain questions are. That helps you not have to think on the ice. It's kind of embedded in us."
John Davidson, the Blues' president, said Murray promised him to "make a concerted effort to get to know players" and establish a more personal connection than he had with the Kings. Davidson liked that as much as he liked Murray's pedigree and experience.
"Andy is the whole package. He's not just a guy who changes lines," Davidson said. "He works hard and goes into the community. What he's done in five or six weeks is amazing. He spends time with youth coaches and he makes time for a lot different avenues.
"He's been a joy. And the players have really bought into it."
Murray called the Kings "my second-favorite team in the West."
On Thursday, they were merely the second-best team on the ice.