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How the Los Angeles Kings' season unfolded, from the start

There was lots of optimism at training camp last fall thanks to rebuilding and promising prospects. The route to the Cup was circuitous, with a coaching change and personnel tweaks along the way.

June 13, 2012|By Lisa Dillman
  • Kings forwards Jeff Carter, left, Simon Gagne, center and Mike Richards, all of whom were added to the roster during the past year, celebrate the Kings' Stanley Cup triumph over the New Jersey Devils on Monday.
Kings forwards Jeff Carter, left, Simon Gagne, center and Mike Richards,… (Dave Sandford / Getty Images )

This year was going to be their year.

For the Kings, this was supposed to be the breakthrough season, which accounted for all the optimism and high hopes when they gathered for training camp in early September in El Segundo.

Slowly, but surely, Kings President and General Manager Dean Lombardi's vision and plan fell into place by rebuilding the franchise the right way, keeping high draft picks in the fold and nurturing them properly.

But there is the saying about the best-laid plans … and even the most-tired clichés have some element of truth.

Early-season problems forced the Kings to fiddle with the design. They didn't have to go back to the drawing board, but they were forced to make a coaching change and a personnel tweak here and there.

The result? They ended up getting to their destination even though they took a circuitous and winding road.

OCTOBER (6-3-2)

It used to be that a season-opening trip to Europe for an NHL team was like a flashing warning signal: trouble ahead.

Not so any longer. Now, the road to the Stanley Cup has been winding through Europe.

The Stanley Cup champions the last three seasons — starting with Pittsburgh in 2008-09, followed by Chicago and Boston — all opened the season in Europe.

For the Kings, their season opener was in Stockholm against the Rangers, and their biggest off-season acquisition, center Mike Richards, assisted on the game-winning goal in overtime to win it, 3-2. One night later, they lost to the Sabres, 4-2, in Berlin.

Of note, the last time the Kings started in Europe was the 2007-08 season; the team missed the playoffs and changed coaches afterward.

Another welcome addition on the Kings' European tour was star defenseman Drew Doughty, who missed most of training camp because of a contract impasse. He signed an eight-year, $56-million deal Sept. 29.

Before leaving for Europe, veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi, who won one Stanley Cup with the Penguins, thought the pieces of a winner were there, saying: "For me, it's more of an on-paper, roster type-of-thing. We have the elements of a good team. But you still have to come through and do it."

NOVEMBER (6-5-2)

The one-step forward, one-step back aspect of the early season befuddled the Kings. But as they tried to figure it out and work through their scoring woes, there was one thing they could count on: their neighbor to the South … the Ducks.

Anaheim also was having a puzzling season and would eventually change coaches by the end of the month. The Kings and the Ducks have rarely excelled at the same time and have yet to play each other in the playoffs.

For now, the adversaries were trying to prevent their seasons from slipping away and the Kings played their best stretch of the month against the Ducks.

In their first meeting of the season, the Kings and Ducks took it to a shootout Nov. 16 at Staples Center, needing seven rounds to decide the issue, with Kings forward Justin Williams providing the clinching goal.

If that game wasn't dramatic enough, there was a touch of the unusual one night later at Honda Center.

There was a 17-minute delay to the start of the third period when some of the lights in the building did not come back on after the second intermission. The Kings emerged with a 5-3 victory.

DECEMBER (7-6-2)

The Kings players and staff boarded their plane Dec. 11, heading East for a four-game swing, starting in Boston. Murray was aboard but, as it turned out, he would not coach again for the Kings.

The Kings had lost four straight games going into the trip, and After discussions accelerated among team executives regarding Murray's future. The Times reported a day later they were poised to make a coaching change and Lombardi did just that, flying to Boston to deliver the news to Murray in person.

At the time, the Kings were mired in 12th place in the 15-team Western Conference, muddling along with a league-low 2.24 goals per game. Murray stood one win away from 500 career victories.

"It wasn't easy for both of us," Lombardi said on a conference call, announcing the move Dec. 12. "I have such respect for the man. This was more than just business. This goes beyond that."

Assistant Coach John Stevens succeeded Murray on an interim basis and Lombardi reached into his past and emerged with one name to take Murray's spot: Darryl Sutter.

Apparently, it was time to get the band back together. Lombardi and Sutter once had been a team in San Jose as general manager and coach, respectively. Since then, Sutter had been general manager and coach in Calgary, guiding the Flames to the Stanley Cup Final in 2004, but had been out of hockey for about a year.

His debut as Kings coach was Dec. 22 and it came down to a shootout against the Ducks, a 3-2 Kings' victory. It also marked the return of Richards, who had been out most of the month because of a concussion.

JANUARY (5-2-4)

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