Kings defensemen Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin are in this thing together
The partnership between Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin strengthened over the summer like bromance scenes from a movie.
Muzzin has made Southern California his year-round home, and he worked out frequently with Martinez. The Kings defensemen are neighbors and can communicate like kids shouting to each other from their tree houses.
“We can both be standing on our roof deck and throw a football to each other,” Martinez said. “I can talk to him if I’m out there.”
Much of those discussions centered on improving on last season. The pair combined had a plus/minus rating of minus-38, a concerning number for the usually stingy Kings defense.
“We weren’t good enough last year, both as a pair and as a team,” Martinez said. “We’ve had discussions about what we’re going to do differently.”
Kings coach John Stevens wants Martinez to get back to being a solid defender and swift puck mover. The latter was evident with Martinez’s assist through the slot on Michael Cammalleri’s first goal of the preseason in a 4-1 win against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday at Staples Center. Cammalleri scored twice and Jonathan Quick took a shutout into the third period in the Kings’ penultimate preseason contest.
Stevens wants Muzzin to channel more of the defense-first anchor identity that helped him scratch out a career with the Kings in the first place.
“We need Muzz being the shutdown guy that he can be,” Stevens said. “He needs to be really heavy down low, and when he does that, it seems like it fuels the rest of his game. But last year he seemed he wasn’t nearly as good defensively as he’s capable of. He knows that.”
Muzzin also contributes offensively and might be given more rein under Stevens’ five-man attack. He was MVP of a preseason game in China and, even though it’s preseason, said his four-point performance in the two-game series there felt good.
Muzzin also said an important part of their effectiveness ties into remembering how good they can be when they are clicking like neighborhood kids.
“We’ve got to get back to what made us successful — both playing our game, having fun, being excited to play, happy at the rink,” Muzzin said. “Stuff like that, I think, goes a long way in our play.”
Thursday marked the first time that Adrian Kempe played against his older brother, Arizona wing Mario Kempe.
The rare occurrence seems understandable given they are separated by eight years. Adrian, 21, and Mario, 29, were teammates during Adrian’s first year professionally in Sweden but otherwise haven’t seen a lot of ice together in recent years.
“It’s just a normal game, but it’s special to play against your big brother,” Adrian said before the game.
Adrian has centered the third line in preseason and is considered ready for a more productive role with the Kings.
Stevens likes his ability to bring speed up the middle but said it’s still an adjustment for him to play center.
Mario was a Philadelphia Flyers’ draft pick in 2007 and his decade-long quest to reach the NHL took him to Russia for the last three seasons. He has two preseason goals, but took a first-period slashing penalty Thursday that Drew Doughty converted into his first goal of the preseason.
Jeff Carter also scored for the Kings.
Stevens said the new rule about being assessed a minor penalty for unsuccessfully challenging offside on plays that lead to goals against wouldn’t heavily impact his decision-making.
But he will be more aware, particularly late in games.
“Hopefully you have a little more evidence that it is offside to make the call, because to end up in the box in that situation, it can be tough,” Stevens said. “I think we’ve got to make sure we err on the side of caution.”
Marian Gaborik (knee) was given two days of recovery time off the ice after pushing hard, Stevens said, but is expected to resume practice Friday. … Michael Mersch and Andrew Crescenzi cleared waivers and were assigned to Ontario.
Follow Curtis Zupke on Twitter @curtiszupke
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.