The Edmonton Oilers’ first-round matchup against the Los Angeles Kings was a total mixed bag. It was extremely difficult to get a gauge on what the team can do in the playoffs. Generally, what we saw was a trendline that matched the team’s season jumping back and forth between hot and cold.
Shaking off the Jitters in Game One
It seemed apparent early in Game One the Oilers were not fully prepared for this matchup, and it brought forth a glaring flaw in how the team’s strategy plays out. Despite some early physicality to get everyone’s head into the game, the Kings were able to dominate and control play, taking an early lead. Flashback to the regular season when the Oilers were one of the worst teams in the league for giving up the first goal.
To me, this is a symptom of a major flaw in the Oilers’ system, they tend to find themselves playing their opponent’s game way too often as they focus on the counterattack, capitalizing on mistakes and turnovers. The downside is that the Oilers could be a fast, offensively dominant team (as we saw later in the series) but that trait often doesn’t get a chance to come through.
Even though the Oilers caught up, they were defeated 4-3 because of a poor decision by Mike Smith. It brings up one of my keys to the series. The Oilers needed a strong performance from their goalie(s) but they did not get it.
Bringing the Offense in Games Two and Three
Something clicked for the Oilers in these two games as they exploded offensively, winning 6-0 and 8-2 respectively. These games are a perfect example of what the Oilers can do when things click and when they impose themselves on the game.
To get 14 goals in two games with the scoring spread out throughout the lineup is an impressive showing in the playoffs. They were getting the saves they needed from Smith who, to his credit, absolutely bounced back from his costly mistake in Game One. The Kings were by no means quiet, putting up 30 shots in Game Three and 46 in Game Four, Edmonton just found more ways to score.
Falling Back to Earth in Games Four and Five
Reflecting back on my pregame thoughts heading into Game Four, I was incredibly concerned about how the Oilers would handle their recent success as well as how the Kings would react to being blown out on home ice in Game Three. Turns out I was concerned for the right reasons as the Kings took control of Game Four early and never looked back.
These two games are where I begin to look at specific players who are making crucial mistakes leading to chances and goals against. In particular, Duncan Keith, Smith, and Evan Bouchard. Through these two games, most of the goals against can be attributed to a misplay by one of these three players.
For example, on the first goal in Game Four, Bouchard bobbles a puck and since every Oiler is along the boards, Trevor Moore has all the space he needs to get the Kings up early.
And on the second Kings goal in Game Five, Keith botches a clear attempt and falls down. Neither defender (the other being Bouchard) is in a good position. It’s essentially a 2-on-1, and the Kings score.
It’s hard to really understand what Smith is attempting on this one but it seems like he stopped following the play expecting a whistle. Then, in a desperate attempt to get back into it, goes for the lunge. Obviously, it didn’t work and the Kings scored again.
And to cap off just the noteworthy misplays, we can look at the overtime goal in Game Five. Keith gets his lack of foot speed, agility, and poor positioning exploited as he gets beat wide very easily.
Even though these players had the most egregious misplays and are the easiest to critique, the entire team was a letdown.
They did not get the goaltending they needed as Smith continually let in goals, notably through his five-hole, that should not have gone in. The Oilers as a whole struggled to adapt, through the physically engaging style of play they used was a positive sign.
The Redemption Arc in Games Six and Seven
Game Six started much better, Edmonton understood the assignment early and dominated play in the first. Considering the Oilers were outshot 36-15 in the first periods of Games Four and Five, keeping the first-period shots about equal and escaping with a 1-0 lead is an astronomical improvement. This solid start helped hold the team in it to extend the series to a seventh game.
Back on home ice for Game Seven, the Oilers, with an injured Leon Draisaitl, came out strong. Again, they corrected their earlier flaw, that being slow starts, to dominate the game from the opening puck drop. Staying engaged physically, throwing hits constantly, and applying pressure. They were imposing their game on the Kings. Redemption arc complete. Ultimately, the Oilers held on for a 2-0 victory in Game Seven to advance to the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Evander Kane, showing off why he has been a solid addition overall had seven goals in the series, Connor McDavid, with 14 points, and Cody Ceci, who had six points including scoring the series-clinching goal, were major stand-outs in the first round for the Oilers.
With their performance in this series, we have gotten to see the resilience of this team and the flashes of dominance that they need to make a deep playoff run. Yes, they’ve still got some holes in the roster that will be filled in the coming years, but the core and mainstays on this team are beginning to show that they have what it takes.
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