The Edmonton Oilers trounced the Los Angeles Kings 8-2 on Friday evening, taking a 2-1 series lead in the first round of their Stanley Cup Playoff series. In three games, the Oilers have scored 17 goals, leading the league in that category. After a costly mistake in Game 1, the team is back on track and the Oilers look like they’re going to be a team the Kings will have a hard time eliminating. Is there reason to think the Oilers could have success against other teams if they move on?
Here are seven reasons the Oilers don’t just look poised to take this first-round series with the Kings but could make a long run in the playoffs.
Reason 1: Top Guys Playing Like Top Guys
Connor McDavid (six points), Leon Draisaitl (four points), Evander Kane (five goals), Mike Smith (two wins and a shutout), and others are looking good at a time the Oilers absolutely need them to be playing at their best. Your stars need to be your stars and the Oilers’ big guns have shown up to play.
The Oilers’ top two lines have been incredible. The combination of McDavid with Kane and Jesse Puljujarvi is dangerous. The second line of Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, and Kailer Yamamoto is almost as deadly. Teams have to gameplan for how to defend two lines that are equally as potent and in the Kings’ case, they don’t have the horses on the blue line to defend this team.
Reason 2: Depth is Contributing
The extra depth that the Oilers have this year is paying dividends. A deeper team than they’ve ever employed under Ken Holland’s GM tenure, the bottom six isn’t just leaving it up to the top six to do all of the heavy lifting. When two lines are effective, the bottom lines merely need to keep the momentum going or give the top two lines a chance to rest. Not only are players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Warren Foegele, Ryan McLeod, Zack Kassian, and Josh Archibald doing so, but they’re also actually carrying the play in some cases.
This is huge if it continues as it means the top guys are rested, the opposition is tired and often physically abused and at any time, the depth can pot a goal. Nugent-Hopkins as a third-line center without a pressing need to elevate him is critical to the Oilers’ success. So far, it’s worked like a charm.
Reason 3: Not Intimidated
The Kings are a big team and they’ve been taking cheap shots at the Oilers all series. The Oilers not only don’t seem to care, but they are laughing at the opposition in the face of their attempts to take them off their game. In some cases, the Oilers are often initiating the rough stuff.
A perfect example is the response of the Oilers to a player like Brendan Lemieux. He’s tried to get in the grill of the Oilers and his cheap plays and calls for attention aren’t working. Friday night he took a nasty cheap shot crosscheck to the arm of Tyson Barrie. Edmonton didn’t back down.
Even if the Oilers have taken a few too many penalties, the Oilers have stayed disciplined and won’t get sucked into his game.
Reason 4: Special Teams
Speaking of the penalty kill, outside of one quick strike by the Kings on Friday, the Oilers have been superb when down a man. They’ve also been extremely effective on the power play, something that is being given a chance to help the team this year. In the past, the Oilers haven’t been getting the calls. This year, it seems like the officials are calling penalties, even some that aren’t and that’s good for a team like the Oilers who can win games when given time to work their magic.
If teams know the officials aren’t going to let everything go, it opens up room for the Oilers’ top offensive players to do their thing. The playoffs are always going to be rougher, but not everything is fair game this season.
Reason 5: Blue Line Depth In Right Roles
The pairing on the Oilers blue line has been ideal. Evan Bouchard is getting experience with one of the best teachers he could ask for in Duncan Keith, Darnell Nuse and Cody Ceci are doing a decent job of shutting down the top-level offensive stars and Tyson Barrie and Brett Kulak make for an effective and well-rounded third pair that might be a little small, but aren’t afraid to mix it up. The longer the Oilers can keep these pairs together, the better.
Reason 6: Mike Smith
Say what you will about his giveaway in Game 1 (I know had a lot to say), Mike Smith is trending in the right direction and one could argue he’s not given up more than that one goal that he should have stopped. He’s played well, facing a barrage of shots from a shoot-happy Kings team and he’s given the Oilers steady netminding. Unlike the Kings, who had to pull their starting goalie already, there’s been no need for the Oilers to even look down the bench at Mikko Koskinen.
Smith doesn’t need to be perfect, but he needs to be consistent and it appears he’s already learned from his mistake in Game 1. He’s playing the puck, but he’s doing so safely and not going for the home run.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”