Edmonton at Los Angeles
Oilers lead series 2-1
Such is the nature of playoff hockey, each win and loss a huge emotional swing, bringing up years, even decades of contextualizing statistics. The weight of the entire season comes down to a series of games, but the baggage of the past looms, years and even decades that seem to be hanging in the balance.
Such was the case for the Oilers after their game 1 loss. So much focus was placed on the last time Smith won a playoff game, or the franchise won a playoff series. After 2 convincing wins by the Oilers it’s now Kings fans who are looking down the barrel of some unflattering statistics. Ultimately it is a bit unreasonable to compare past seasons in equivalence, but no doubt the vision of the fans is tinted, if not tainted, with history.
Although the Oilers have strung together 2 very convincing performances all, players and fans alike, are smart enough to understand that being halfway to 4 wins means next to nothing. The Oilers have proven that the improvements made under Coach Woodcroft are real and effective, even in the postseason, and that they could and perhaps should win this series. Outside of their lukewarm effort in game 1 the Oilers have been the better team and carried play, a trend that should continue throughout the balance of this series.
The Oilers owe it to themselves to bring their best effort once again, as the prospect of returning to Edmonton with a 3-1 series lead should be motivation enough to keep their foot on the gas. The only thing we can be certain about is that the series is far from over, and that the next 2 wins will be much more difficult than the last.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Strong Effort. It’s likely the Oilers usual strong effort will be enough to beat LA most nights. Despite the recent lopsided results the Oilers cannot take the Kings lightly.
- Penalty Kill. It’s been a strong series for the Oilers PK, and keeping up these results is key to keeping the Kings offensive totals in check.
- Transition Defence. The Kings did not have much go in their favour in game 3, but their best chance of winning any game against the Oilers starts with a suffocating defensive effort, particularly through the neutral zone. Slowing down the Oilers attack is obviously important, but it’s likely much of the Kings offence hinges on creating counterattack opportunities off of transition turnovers.
Kane — McDavid — Puljujarvi
Hyman — Draisaitl — Yamamoto
Archibald — Nugent-Hopkins — Ryan
Foegele — McLeod — Kassian
Nurse — Ceci
Keith — Bouchard
Kulak — Barrie
Athanasiou — Kopitar — Kempe
Iafallo — Danault — Moore
Lemieux — Lizotte — Brown
Vilardi — Kupari — Kaliyev
Edler — Roy
Anderson — Durzi
Maatta — Spence
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Given the performances of both games 2 and 3 there is little to complain about as it pertains to the Oilers lineup. The McDavid line has been fantastic, punctuated by Kane’s gaudy offensive production.
Draisaitl has indeed contributed as well, particularly on the power play. The Kings have made it difficult for this line to get much going at even strength, but at the very least this group is drawing a lot of attention.
The Oilers depth has contributed as well, with strong performances from both the Nugent-Hopkins and McLeod lines. With Kassian playing his best hockey of the season it is a bit of a misnomer to call either of these groups a 4th line, but such is the Oilers most obvious strength as a team; offensive depth.
Nurse and Ceci have held up reasonably, although perhaps not quite as much as their impressive regular season work. It’s not a huge issue at this point as Keith and Bouchard have elevated their game to the point where they have been the Oilers best pairing over the course of the first 3 games of this series.
The Kings are keeping their cards close to the best as we approach puck drop, and given the poor performance last game it would not be that surprising to see some changes to the lineup.
Arvidsson is likely still out, and it seems possible that Grundstrom might join him on the injury report, as both are considered game time decisions.
Kupari, much like Byfield, is not quite fully developed and ready to be a regular impact player, but does have some skill and talent. Lower in the lineup might become less and less relevant in the balance of the game as the Kings desperation might cause them to lean on the top 2 lines more than usual.
After an incredible game 1 the Kopitar and Danault lines have been less effective in games 2 and 3. It’s unlikely we see the likes of these lines outscoring the Oilers top players very often, and success from these groups lies more within shutting down the Oilers attack.
The Kings blueline has had some difficulties under the Oilers forecheck, and we might see capable scratches like Bjornfot make their way into the lineup. It might be a bit much to expect Durzi and Spence to function as the top puck movers at this juncture of their careers.