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KINGS START FAR FROM HOME.

Byline: Matt McHale Staff Writer

The Staples Center opens in less than three weeks, but the Kings are still a long way from home.

Before they play the first sporting event at L.A.'s new arena they will play seven road games, beginning tonight against the second-year Nashville Predators.

They didn't have much of a choice since the Staples Center is not yet complete. But seven games is a difficult undertaking, especially for a rebuilding team that did not make the playoffs last season.

``There are two ways to look at it,'' said first-year coach Andy Murray. ``You can take the negative approach and say we are going to struggle and take all the enthusiasm away from the new building or you can take a positive approach. Teams bond on the road, get to know each other and it breeds success. I've seen it.''

Although this is Murray's first NHL coaching job, he has been an assistant with three other clubs. He knows the Boston Bruins often open on the road for that very reason. And the Bruins have won their last 13 season openers.

Although the Kings acquired high-scoring winger Ziggy Palffy and agreed to terms with veteran defenseman Mattias Norstrom late Thursday, Murray's biggest task is accentuating the positive with his club.

Last year's Kings never really recovered when coach Larry Robinson publicly admitted in November he doubted whether he wanted to be a coach. Robinson was a Hall of Famer, but his comments were so draining to his players that they never recovered.

Palffy is a potentially explosive scorer teamed on the first line with Luc Robitaille and Jozef Stumpel. But more critical will be the attitude the club builds before they get home.

``I know the team is very excited about the new building and I think that might have had something to do with getting me in here and getting off on a good foot,'' Norstrom said Friday. ``I was at the practice today and the turnaround in attitude was incredible. We'll use this time together to build something good.''

Norstrom probably won't play tonight against the Predators, who last year finished six points behind the Kings (32-45-5) in the Western Conference. But during his holdout, he has been skating for at least two hours a day with the Kings' minor-league affiliate in Long Beach.

Norstrom wasn't certain where the negotiations were headed earlier in the week, but things developed quickly after a phone conversation with Murray.

``That really meant a lot because I could tell how committed he is to making this team better,'' Norstrom said. ``For about three weeks I didn't hear anything from them and I really didn't know where I stood. But this is a business and if you're lucky you only have to go through one of these in your career.

``The guys were happy to see me today and it was great to be back. The mood is so upbeat.''

One of Murray's concerns on the road is the other team's emotional lift playing in their home opener. After Nashville, the Kings fly to St. Louis for a Monday game with the Blues.

Wednesday and Thursday they play in Miami and Tampa Bay and finish the week Saturday night in Washington D.C. against the Capitals.

The Kings will then fly home for five days but will not play any games. Then it is off to Calgary and Edmonton for games Oct. 15-16.

``One of the surprises in the schedule I found was how much time off teams have before they face us,'' Murray said. ``There are a lot of times when we get back to L.A. and teams already are here waiting for us. But that will only make us work harder.''
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 2, 1999
Words:626
Previous Article:DODGERS NOTEBOOK: KINGS EXEC CONTACTED BY FOX'S WELTS.
Next Article:DUCKS SEASON BEGINS ON THE ROAD, AS USUAL.


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