December 20, 2013 9:59 am

Waking up with the Kings: December 20

In a divisional game against another large team that plays a heavy game and relies upon possession, the Los Angeles Kings were better through all three periods and relied on their own quality possession efforts – and superior goaltending – in sending the suddenly scuffling San Jose Sharks to their sixth loss in eight games. Though the total attempts towards the net reflects a slight 59-57 advantage for Los Angeles, it was the Kings that were able to implement their own possession-heavy, cycling style of play to greater benefit, and after the first five or six shifts of the game proved that the best defense is often a good offense. Though Martin Jones was solid when he needed to be – and summoned the black arts in somehow keeping the puck out of his net in the second period – the Sharks didn’t consistently sustain any real pressure in the Kings’ end, save for a dangerous sequence late in the second period. The puck was on L.A.’s sticks for the majority of Thursday’s game.

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Dustin Brown is a player that has inched his toes right up to the line of allowable hitting while very seldom crossing it. And when Brown has crossed that line – which he has done once – it isn’t a clear cut leap past the blurry, spotted, zigzagged barrier between what is and what is not allowable physical play. It’s physicality that has at one point, crossed that line by a small-to-moderate margin. No matter what members of the 2012 Phoenix Coyotes think, Brown has effectively stayed within the boundaries of the nebulous assessment of what is a legal hockey hit as determined by the Department of Player Safety – though he has stepped firmly towards the difficult-to-define precipice. Thursday’s knee-on-knee hit of Tomas Hertl, which unfortunately injured the dynamic Sharks rookie, should at most have been a two-minute minor, and a case could be made for no discipline to have been assessed on the play.

From the NHL’s Official Rules, here is Rule 50, Kneeing:
50.1 Kneeing – Kneeing is the act of a player leading with his knee and in some cases extending his leg outwards to make contact with his opponent.
50.2 Minor Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a minor penalty, based on the severity of the infraction, to a player guilty of kneeing an opponent.
50.3 Major Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a major penalty, based on the severity of the infraction, to a player guilty of kneeing an opponent (see 50.5).
50.4 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by kneeing.
50.5 Game Misconduct Penalty – When a player has been assessed a major penalty for kneeing he shall also be assessed a Game Misconduct.

By the definition of the rule, this Brown’s hit was a borderline penalty. He did not lead with his knee – it was his back leg that made contact with Hertl’s – nor did he extend his leg outward to make contact with the opponent. Kyle Clifford’s October 27 hit of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in October was a more dangerous knee-on-knee collision, and Clifford was assessed a fine from the league without being issued a penalty. More importantly than debating the ejection of Brown from last night’s game or the precedents set by the Department of Player Safety is the acknowledgement that Tomas Hertl is a blossoming young star in the league, and that hockey fans should hope he isn’t badly injured or adversely affected by last night’s collision.

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Though they haven’t produced numbers that leap off a stats page, the King-Kopitar-Carter line has created difficult match-ups for the opposition recently, with the first period of the Ottawa game serving as a fine example. The Kings have averaged 3.33 non-shootout goals per game in December, a spike in production due both to an unsustainably low shooting percentage early in the season as well as spread out scoring throughout a lineup that has become more balanced since Darryl Sutter rearranged his forward alignments prior to the December 2 game against St. Louis. Since then, the 6-foot-4, 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4 forwards have combined for 11 goals and 20 points in nine games. King is on pace for a 23 goal season, while Carter has been a point-a-game player since the adjustment.

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