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Knights adjust to NHL crackdown on cross-checking

Brayden McNabb is one of the Golden Knights’ most physical defensemen in front of the net and in the corners, which requires the occasional jab to the back of an opponent with his stick.

When the league announced last week that there will be a stricter enforcement of the cross-checking rule, McNabb took notice.

“I watched the video and it’s basically a cross-checking penalty is a cross-checking penalty is what I got from it,” McNabb said. “I don’t think it’s a huge change. You might see a lot more penalties at the start of the year, especially in the preseason. It’s something you’ve got to be aware of. But vicious cross-checks are going to get called. They probably should’ve been called.”

The video McNabb is referring to was released by the league Friday and detailed a tighter standard of enforcement to Rule 59, which defines cross-checking as, “The action of using the shaft of the stick between the two hands to forcefully check an opponent.”

The crackdown is designed to promote offense and reduce injuries, according to the league, and comes after years of complaints that the league’s stars were being manhandled and not protected by referees.

This past postseason saw a handful of incidents go uncalled, and one of the plays highlighted in the league’s video explaining the new standard was the unpenalized cross-check delivered by Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield to Nikita Kucherov that left the Lightning star with a cracked rib.

“I’m probably going to take a few paddings off my shoulder pads,” left wing Jonathan Marchessault joked. “I mean, it’s going to be easier to get to the front of the net, for sure. I think there’s going to be more goals.

“It’s like everything. It’s going to be an adjustment. I think we’ll all find a way.”

In previous years, the NHL has announced it would enforce rules closer to the letter of the law, whether it was interference or slashing.

At the start of the 2017-18 season, the league sent out a memo informing teams it would be stricter on faceoff procedures. That change led to an increase in penalties during exhibition games and early in the regular season before players and linesmen adapted to the standard.

Following Saturday’s practice at City National Arena, several players stayed late and talked about the new cross-checking enforcement with NHL referee Steve Kozari, who was on the ice for the scrimmage.

“We got a good explanation from him,” defenseman Alec Martinez said. “I don’t really think it changes much. Last time I checked, you can’t really just violently cross-check somebody in the back. I think they’re looking at the force. Now that I say that, I’ll probably get called on it. But I’m not really too concerned.”

The Knights were penalized once for cross-checking in the preseason opener against San Jose on Sunday when defenseman Zack Hayes was sent to the box in the first period.

Coach Pete DeBoer said afterward he didn’t think it was a cross-check and was pleased there weren’t seven or eight cross-checking calls between the teams as they learn what crosses the line.

“It’s going to take some getting used to because guys are used to around the net engaging offensive players,” DeBoer said. “I’m a little old school. I like the physical battles of the game. I don’t like to see that over legislated out of the game because I think it’s important. The jury’s out on what that looks like.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.