3 Takeaways as Kings Lose to Oilers in 6 Games

The Los Angeles Kings lost Game 6 on home ice to the Edmonton Oilers, which ended their 2022-23 season. This was another back-and-forth affair like we’ve seen many times in this series, and ultimately the Kings came up short. A first round exit against the Oilers was how their season ended last year as well, but there is a lot we have learned over this year. The time to dissect the team moving forward will come, but let’s look at how things finished in this series.

Kings Lose Five-on-Five Battle

A key coming into this series was for the Kings to play with the Oilers at five-on-five. It was always going to be hard for them to win the special teams battle going up against a potent Edmonton power play. They needed to at least stay with the Oilers at five-on-five and score some power play goals of their own while limiting the penalties they took. This is what was working for the Kings early in the series that had them giving the Oilers problems.

2023 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 1 Los Angeles Kings Edmonton Oilers
Los Angeles Kings Edmonton Oilers (The Hockey Writers)

In the first four games, the Kings played the Oilers to a dead heat at five-on-five. The goals were seven a piece, even if all the shot metrics were in favor of Edmonton. That changed starting in Game 5, as the Oilers ended up outscoring the Kings 8-4 with both teams at full strength. The frustrating part for the Kings was that a lot of the damage was done by the Oilers’ depth players. Nick Bjugstad had two goals in Game 5, Klim Kostin had two goals in Game 6, and Brett Kulak had a goal in Game 5. The Oilers got the series-deciding goal from Kailer Yamamoto after he had struggled for most of the series. It’s understandable to get beaten by the Oilers’ many stars, but allowing players lower in the lineup to beat you is frustrating.

Kempe Continued Regular Season Success Into Playoffs

Adrian Kempe was the Kings’ breakout star last season. He scored 35 goals to lead the team. This had expectations high for him going into last season’s playoff series. Unfortunately for him and for LA, he didn’t have as big of an impact in the postseason. He had just two goals in last year’s seven-game series, and they both came in Game 5. This year, he was much more involved throughout the series.

Related: Kempe One of Leagues Most Underrated Goal Scorers

Kempe had a slow start to the year, but really picked things up in the middle of the season. A hat trick in the last game of the regular season saw him hit the 40-goal mark, making it the first time a Kings’ player did so in 29 years. This time, he was able to carry that over to the playoffs. He had five goals and eight points in the six-game series, and had a point in every game in the series.

Adrian Kempe Los Angeles Kings
Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Kempe was dangerous at both even strength and on the power play. He had three even-strength goals compared to just one for Connor McDavid on the other side. He scored important goals in the team’s two wins in the series as well. Two goals in the third period of Game 1 when the Kings were able to come back and win, and the tying goal in Game 3 which the Kings eventually won in overtime. Maybe he will start to get more recognition around the league after this performance. A recent article on ESPN.com did not have him as one of the 50 biggest stars in the playoffs, something that should change given his play over the last two seasons.

Kings Need Help With Defensive Depth

A big story for this series was Drew Doughty being healthy after he missed the playoffs last season. He was fine in the series, if unspectacular. The Kings made their big move at the trade deadline to acquire Vladislav Gavrikov and add to the left side of their defense group. Gavrikov was impressive in this series on the second defense pair. The team had more shot attempts, high-danger chances and goals with him on the ice at five-on-five. This gave the Kings two pairs of defensemen they could deploy fairly comfortably. Where the Kings really had a weakness was on the bottom pair.

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The first four games saw the bottom pair feature Alexander Edler and Sean Durzi. Durzi actually led the team in ice time per game for defensemen in last year’s playoffs, but had struggled a bit this season and was moved down the lineup. Edler did not have a good season and many thought that he would be scratched regularly when the Kings traded for Gavrikov. Todd McLellan decided to have Edler’s experience in the lineup to begin the series, although he didn’t appear to trust him very much.

Edler saw less than 11 minutes per game in the final three games he played in the series, and two of those went to overtime. Durzi got more ice time, but that was partially from getting time on the second power play unit. Neither of them saw much time on the penalty kill. Sean Walker replaced Edler in Game 5 and was an improvement, but saw mostly the same deployment.

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The way the Kings used their defensemen put a lot of pressure on the top pair. Doughty and Mikey Anderson were on the ice for the most goals against out of any players on the team. It’s hard to blame them considering they were on the penalty kill against the best power play of all time. The bottom pair was on the ice for one goal in each of the last two games, both of them being against the depth players. To win the series, the Kings needed more from the bottom of their lineup.

Kings Quick Hits

  • Joonas Korpisalo was mostly solid in the series but finished with a negative goals saved above expected because of Games 5 and 6.
  • Phillip Danault continued his strong play at five-on-five, allowing just one goal when matched up against McDavid.
  • The Kings’ penalty kill finished at a dismal 43.8%, but the power play was good at 33.3%. Obviously, the PK needed to be better, but this is promising for the PP moving forward.

Overall, there was a talent gap between the two teams that was obvious coming into the series. There were things that the Kings could have done to win it, but unfortunately, they couldn’t execute them well enough to overcome that talent gap. This will lead to an interesting offseason to dissect in the coming months, with some areas that the team clearly needs to address.