Last week, my colleague Michael Bloom wrote about one possible first-round playoff opponent for the Edmonton Oilers. That being the Vegas Golden Knights. But there is one other team that deserves consideration here, especially since they currently sit third in the Pacific Division, the Los Angeles Kings. In anticipation of the end of the regular season and the beginning of playoffs within the next two weeks, let’s preview this potential matchup for the Oilers as well!
The Los Angeles Kings’ Playoff Push
With four games left to play, the Kings sit third in the Pacific with 92 points, a three-point lead over the Vegas Golden Knights. Even though they do have the spot right now, the Kings have struggled in recent weeks and have lost a lot of ground in the division. They were once a comfortable second seed but a slump has seen them lose that to the Oilers while Vegas and the Vancouver Canucks have caught up and are nipping at the heels of the Kings.
With offseason moves to bring in veteran presences like Phillip Danault and Alexander Edler, the message is clear that the team was trying to turn back into a competitive state. They have certainly done that, maybe a year or two earlier than expected.
The Kings, despite being an average team stat-wise, have been able to find ways to win games. They’re also elevated in the standings by a weak division, as they are the team with the lowest points percentage currently in a playoff spot.
The Edmonton Oilers’ Playoff Push
It has been nothing short of an emotional roller coaster for the Edmonton Oilers this season. After a roaring start that had them near the top of the league for the first month and a half, a multi-month-long slump nearly killed the season as the Oilers found themselves well out of a playoff spot.
What changed? The Oilers made yet another coaching change. Former coach Dave Tippett was let go and replaced with (apparent) phenom Jay Woodcroft. Ever since, the team has played significantly better, sporting a 22-8-3 record.
Woodcroft has been with the organization for almost seven years, so he is familiar with the Oilers and he has coached most of the players and the prospects currently with the team. This familiarity seems to be paying off as he has been able to adjust the team’s systems and composition to allow individuals to prosper.
Now, the team sits comfortably in second place in the division. The Oilers will need to be careful to not get complacent in the home stretch. They do not want to stumble into the playoffs after having taken a few games off for some R and R. Home-ice advantage is still up for grabs, as they only have a four-point cushion with five games to play (one game in hand over the Kings).
If these two teams match up in the first round, we are in for one exciting series. The Oilers and Kings have played twice in the past month. One game, in particular, stands out as a playoff intensity in the regular-season type of game.
The high-flying offence possessed by the Oilers matches up well against a team that has some trouble scoring, but the Kings’ team defence, especially having a forward like Danault, will help mitigate that. A key for Edmonton is going to be keeping Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all on separate lines for as long as absolutely possible. If they can do this, the Kings will be scrambling to find the depth to cover three scoring lines.
The Oilers are not yet a team that can be considered “built for playoff hockey,” which is proving to be a major challenge as they try to make some noise in the postseason. Two consecutive disappointing playoff performances in a row show that the team’s style and strategies do not transfer over well. Having players like Zach Hyman, Evander Kane, and Warren Foegele may help with this transition.
A potential place for the Oilers to capitalize and gain an edge is in special teams. Edmonton’s regular-season powerplay is ranked third in the league (25.8%). A huge difference compared to the Kings’ 27th-ranked powerplay (16.2%). Their penalty kills are more equal, with the Oilers sitting at 78.7% and the Kings at 76.6%. As we know, the referees tend to put the whistles away come playoff time, so the Oilers cannot plan to rely on this special team’s edge to pull ahead in the series.
Goaltending will be a make-or-break situation for both teams in this series. The Oilers have struggled with inconsistency and injuries in the net. Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith spent the season trading hot streaks and were rarely both in the lineup at the same time. Whereas the Kings have ended up relying more on Jonathan Quick than they probably wanted as Calvin Petersen did not take the jump forward into a full-time starter role that it looked like he was ready for in 2020-21. The battle in net between the two teams will be one of the most important storylines for this potential series.
Even though I would pick the Oilers to win this series in six games, I cannot count the Kings out due to their youthful exuberance and momentum. Additionally, the track record the Oilers have in the playoffs recently shows they aren’t quite built for playoff hockey. Until they do have some postseason success, the on-paper matchup is not particularly meaningful or reliable.
Drop your predictions for this potential playoff matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings down below!
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