The Edmonton Oilers provide a unique challenge for the LA Kings with a high-powered offense. Here’s how LA can slow them down.
The LA Kings have finally secured a playoff spot. Their first postseason appearance in four years. Finishing third in the Pacific Division, the Kings will face off against the second-place Edmonton Oilers in the first round. Although LA went 1-2-1 against Edmonton during the season, there are reasons for the Kings to be confident.
After dealing with many injuries throughout the season, the LA Kings have fought through their share of adversity. With a nearly-full roster, this Kings team looks to make some noise in the postseason. Edmonton could be the first victim as LA hopes to continue to surprise people around the league.
This season, the Kings did well offensively against the Oilers, scoring 12 goals in four games. Adrian Kempe led the way with two goals, while Viktor Arvidsson and Phillip Danault had three points apiece (one goal and two assists). Jonathan Quick appeared in three games, going 1-1-1.
Stopping Edmonton is not going to be an easy task. Los Angeles will not completely shut down Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl, but they can limit their chances. Two things working in the Kings’ favor are Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault. Known as two of the best defensive centers in the NHL, this will be LA’s best chance at slowing Edmonton’s potent attack.
Brendan Lemieux can play a significant role here as well. He’s been a thorn in opponents’ side all season, getting players off their game by constantly being in their faces. The Kings as a team can take away space by clogging up the passing lanes and being physical with the Oilers’ star forwards every chance they get.
Another way the Kings will look to slow down the Edmonton attack is by clogging up the neutral zone. Playing their 1-3-1 system, LA will try not to allow Edmonton clean entries into the zone. Edmonton is a fast team that can make you pay if you give them an inch. Los Angeles can not afford to try and skate with the Oilers because that is not their game. It will be important that LA are the ones to dictate the play and not get caught up in the end-to-end rushes, or they will get burned.
Special Teams will play a big factor in this series. It’s been an area where the Kings have struggled all season. At over 26%. Edmonton has the NHL’s third-best power play. It’d be in the Kings’ best interest not to give them many opportunities.
The Kings can also change up their struggling power play (27th in the NHL). They could consider tweaking personnel or adjusting systems to help them use their strengths to their advantage. Limiting Edmonton’s power plays and taking advantage of their own could be the difference in the series.
Get shots against Oilers’ goaltender Mike Smith. The 40-year-old netminder can still stop the first shot and most shots he can see. The Kings need to screen Smith at every opportunity, deflect pucks to get him moving, and shoot from every angle. He isn’t a young goaltender anymore; however, he can steal a game or two for Edmonton, as he’s shown down the stretch.
An already suspect Oilers defense corps has taken a big hit with Darnell Nurse‘s injury. His status for the series is unknown. Edmonton will give up chances, sometimes many second chances. Like McDavid and Draisaitl, the Kings need to hit the Edmonton defense hard, wear them down with the cycle, and keep them moving. LA can utilize the speed of Kempe, Trevor Moore, Andreas Athanasiou, and the tenacity of Lemieux and Blake Lizotte to beat a shaky Oilers defense. The Kings can look to exploit the Oilers’ blueline and goaltending.
Lastly, the Kings will look to lean heavily on their playoff experience. This current group of Kings has 647 playoff games, which goes a lot farther than a highlight-reel goal. Though most of those games came on other teams, the experience comes in handy when the team is behind in a game or down in the series.
The season series was close so expect this series to be the same. We are now starting the most exciting part of hockey, the playoffs. Not many changes need to be made, but those changes could result in a series win and a long playoff push for the Kings.
Throw out the regular season records. A new season begins on Monday.
(Main photo credit: Michael Martin/NHL via Getty Images)