The three-day break between game five and six of the first round allows the LA Kings to make a few adjustments, but none is more important than changing the strategy on the teams’ penalty kill. The Kings trail the Oilers 3-2 in their best-of-seven first-round matchup, and a big reason is because of the Kings’ 43% penalty kill.
Everybody knows the Oilers’ power play has been historically great this season, but the Kings are simply playing too passively when down a man.
The Oilers averaged an NHL history-best 32% on the power play this season, but so far this series they have scored on a whopping 57% of their opportunities.
The Kings can attempt to stay out of the box, but on average, a team is realistically going to get at least 2-3 chances a game. And the Kings simply cannot give up goals at that rate when down a man.
LA’s penalty kill has been an issue all season, as they ranked 24th in the NHL, which is the worst of any team that made the playoffs. They did, however, improve late in the season, but that success has not carried over into the playoffs.
The Kings’ strategy in this series has been to clog the middle and allow the Oilers to play catch on the outside. What seemed like a decent game plan against common teams in the league, Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid are breaking this system apart.
One key adjustment that needs to be made is playing more aggressively. The Kings aren’t challenging the Oilers enough and if you allow two of the best players in the NHL all the time in the world, you can clog the middle all you want, but they are going to find a way to create space or take the shot themselves.
Being aggressive would give the Kings more chances to win this series. But LA is playing too safe and are showing the Oilers too much respect.
They seem so concerned about staying in their exact position and this lack of adjustment to Edmonton’s power play has upended the Kings’ kill percentage. The Oilers will find a way to get the puck to the open man even if LA’s positioning is exceptional. This strategy, without any adjustment from the Kings’ coaching staff, is allowing McDavid and Draisaitl to absolutely tear them apart.
That is not to say that being more assertive would suddenly solve everything and the Oilers would never score on the power play again, but it would definitely give the Kings more of a fighting chance.
Blake Lizotte looks to be making his return to the lineup and his presence on the ice might be the confidence boost the Kings need. He has been one of the Kings’ most energetic penalty killers this season and could inspire his teammates to believe they can be a man down and still stop the onslaught of McDavid and Draisaitl.
The Kings have some of the top defensive players in the League. There is no excuse for their penalty kill to be such a liability. Now is the time to change the approach because if they don’t, it will be the Oilers in the second round, and the Kings heading home early yet again.
(Main photo credit: Andy Devlin, Getty Images)