LOS ANGELES – The Kings’ first official attempt to assess the chemistry of its line combinations this season was interrupted early and often.
The NHL’s initiative to crack down on casual slashing penalties was apparent in the preseason opener, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Canucks on Saturday afternoon at Staples Center.
Each team collected 19 penalty minutes. The Kings averaged just over nine penalty minutes per game last season, the Canucks just under eight.
“I get what they’re trying to do,” said Kings forward Dustin Brown, who had a goal and an assist. “They crack down really hard for the first 20 games and then they kind of find the happy medium where you can still play the game. I mean there were a couple tonight where it felt like it’s just a stick check going for the puck and you hit the guy’s stick. For me, that’s how you forecheck.”
When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman emerged from the league’s board of governors meeting following last season, he made clear the league wouldn’t tolerate a certain level of force on slashes to players hands that haven’t been called in the past.
The most talked-about call was the last of four minor penalties on Kings 21-year-old center Adrian Kempe, all of which occurred in the game’s first 30 minutes. Vancouver’s Ryan White appeared to trip during a collision with a teammate, putting his head in the area of Kempe’s stick as he fell to the ice.
For all the frustration Saturday, there was a healthy amount of sympathy for the referees charged with enforcing the new rules.
“It’s as hard on them as it is on us,” Kings coach John Stevens said. “They’re going to have a learning curve as well. The thing you can’t do is get frustrated by it. You’ve just got to learn from it.”
Said Brown, “It’s probably toughest for the refs because they’ve got us yelling at them and the league yelling at them all at the same time.”
The Kings will have plenty of film to review on their special teams units, which spent the better part of two periods worth of time on the ice.
Lines like Brown, Anze Kopitar and free agent acquisition Michael Cammalleri, who have been running together since training camp began on Wednesday, can hope for smoother opportunities to build their chemistry during the team’s trip to China beginning on Sunday.
“We’ll get a sense as we move through preseason of what’s accepted and what isn’t,” Stevens said of the penalties.