Kings executives are poised to dismiss Coach Terry Murray this week, hoping to halt a string of disappointing performances and revive an offense that has produced a league-low 2.24 goals per game despite a beefed-up payroll that puts the team near the salary-cap limit for the first time.
People familiar with the situation but not authorized to comment publicly said a candidate has not been found to replace Murray, who took over before the 2008-09 season. Murray installed a solid defensive foundation but has not been able to take the team to the next level and capitalize on resources enhanced by the off-season additions of skilled forwards Mike Richards and Simon Gagne.
Murray, who coached his 1,000th NHL game Nov. 12 and is one victory from No. 500 in his career, has twice guided the Kings to the playoffs but lost in the first round in six games each time. The Kings (13-12-4) are in 12th place in the 15-team Western Conference and have scored 65 goals — fewest in the conference — while giving up 67, far short of expectations.
General Manager Dean Lombardi has been reluctant to make a move, but the team’s problems have mounted. The Kings’ 2-1 loss to Dallas on Saturday was their fourth straight defeat — they have scored six goals in that span — and left them 8-9-1 at home.
On Monday, Lombardi was scheduled to fly to Boston, where the Kings open a four-game trip Tuesday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins. When contacted Sunday, Lombardi declined to comment on his plans.
His hand might have been forced by the loss Saturday. The Kings have showed little emotion, perhaps mirroring a coach known for his stone-faced reserve behind the bench.
“We have to be more desperate right now. We have to be more desperate the rest of the year,” captain Dustin Brown said Saturday. “We aren’t playing with enough intensity or enough desperation. We are a good team and now we are not playing like one.”
Lombardi supported Murray, who is under contract through the 2012-13 season, through several slumps last season but sought more consistency this season from a team he projected to be a player or two away from Stanley Cup contention. However, the Kings, who were among the NHL’s lowest-scoring teams last season with 219 goals, are on pace to score 184 goals, a total that probably would not get them into the playoffs.
Murray has continually juggled his offensive lines and defense pairs to little effect. Defenseman Drew Doughty, who sat out training camp because of a contract impasse and later injured a shoulder, has two goals, eight points and a minus-4 defensive rating in 24 games. Richards, who has sat out four games because of a head injury, leads the team with 11 goals. Anze Kopitar leads the Kings with 28 points but has not scored a goal in eight games. Wingers Dustin Penner (two goals) and Justin Williams (four goals) have also struggled to score.
Assistant coach John Stevens, like Murray and Lombardi a product of the Philadelphia Flyers organization, might be asked to serve as interim coach, but his similarities to Murray make him an unlikely long-term choice.
The Kings are not thought to be interested in Randy Carlyle, who was fired by the Ducks on Nov. 30.