Los Angeles at Edmonton
Series tied 2-2
After the Kings and Oilers split in each city we find ourselves down to a best of 3. It’s been a bit of a strange series, from a historical standpoint, in that each team has won by large margins, but such is the case with most of the series around the league at this moment. At least from the Oilers standpoint each of their losses came in efforts that were not up to standard.
It’s true that some of the Oilers perceived lack of effort is the direct result of the Kings stringent defensive prowess, led by some of the most reputable players in the game, namely the likes of Kopitar, Danault, and Edler. It is not a coincidence that both Kings wins have given way to a chorus of praise for the centres in particular during the postgame analysis.
Yet despite the back and forth nature of the series the Oilers remain confident in their standing as the better team, and I would have to agree with them. Between a more consistent effort and a continued emphasis on limiting turnovers in transition the Oilers should be well equipped to have a shot at winning every game, if not considered the favourite.
Alas, it doesn’t much matter what any of us thinks, what does matter is the next 2-3 games and which team can earn a pair of victories. Each bounce might be the last, every decision is amplified as the difference between success and failure shrinks further.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Limit turnovers. So much of the Kings offence comes off of creating turnovers and counter attacking. It’s no mistake that the Oilers seem to come and go with the effectiveness of their transition game.
- Penalty Kill. The Kings simply don’t have the firepower to keep up with the Oilers in a high flying game, which places a particular emphasis on the PK. If the Kings allow the Oilers to get rolling on special teams it could be enough to dominate the series outright.
Kane — McDavid — Yamamoto
McLeod — Draisaitl — Hyman
Archibald — Nugent-Hopkins — Puljujarvi
Foegele — Ryan — Kassian
Nurse — Ceci
Keith — Bouchard
Kulak — Barrie
Iafallo — Kopitar — Kempe
Grundstrom — Danault — Moore
Lemieux — Lizotte — Brown
Kaliyev — Kupari — Vilardi
Edler — Stetcher
Anderson — Roy
Maatta — Durzi
PLAYERS TO WATCH
There is some line shuffling after the game 4 loss and surely it will be a bit of a mixed bag, as each of us has our own ideas of what could or should work best. It’s important to remember that Woodcroft has done nothing but elevate the team’s play with his lineup team-imagining so far.
Yamamoto joins McDavid and Kane, a spot that he’s had some nice stretches in over the past couple months. Personally I might not have changed the McDavid line, and would always caution against splitting McDavid and Puljujarvi. However, this line should continue to be effective at even strength, even against the Kings matchups.
Draisaitl and his line have struggled at even strength this series, as the majority of the star centre’s impact has come on the power play. Given the emphasis on transition attack it makes sense to add some speed to Draisaitl’s wing, potentially stretching the Kings neutral zone structure. McLeod can certainly fit the need, and has produced on Draisaitl’s wing when he’s gotten a look in the top 6.
Nugent-Hopkins hasn’t exactly had the best series, but I can’t help but feel like Archibald playing such a prominent role is not doing him any favours. I suppose it allows Foegele and Ryan to continue their work together, but I would argue that despite his higher-than-ideal cap hit Kassian has been more effective, is more integrated into the team’s day-to-day rhythm, has more offensive upside, and has shown some flashes of chemistry with RNH.
After a convincing win it is less likely to see many adjustments to the Kings game 4 lineup. Iafallo and Grundstrom did really well playing up the lineup. Grundstrom in particular has some Hornqvist-like qualities to his game that lend themselves to playoff success, physicality, compete, net front play.
Troy Stetcher has been great with the Red Wings, Canucks, and the Gold Medal winning Canadian World Championship team over the past few season, and as a right shot, under 30, low cost option, it is a bit puzzling as to why. Those who have followed him over that stretch know that he routinely finds himself moving higher up in the lineup into matchup roles as the games grow more intense.
Edler and Anderson have shown why they are the Kings strongest defensive defenders, as they take most of the matchups against the Oilers star studded top 6. Durzi does a lot of the offensive work and is likely better slotted lower in the lineup than he has been playing, as he is still growing into his peak form.