After two disappointing defeats, the Los Angeles Kings came out and dominated in Game 4, beating the Edmonton Oilers 4-0 and tying the first-round series at 2-2. It was the kind of bounce-back game the team needed, as heading into Edmonton down 3-1 could have been disastrous. The Kings played their best game of the series in Game 4 and grabbed a win. Here are three takeaways from the game.
Kings’ Special Teams Important Again
In the first three games, special teams played a huge role in the outcome in all the wrong ways for the Kings, but Game 4 was different. The team’s penalty kill was a perfect 3-3, keeping the potent Oilers’ power play off the scoresheet for the first time this series.
They had a coherent penalty-killing unit for the first time, and the most important penalty killer, goaltender Jonathan Quick, was on top of his game. LA did all the little things right: they won battles in front of the net, put their bodies on the line to block shots, and cleared the puck when given the opportunity. Minimizing the Oilers’ power-play opportunities is still the best way to win this series, but if the Kings’ penalty kill can play as they did in Game 4 for the rest of this series, it could be the difference-maker.
I hate to damper the mood after a great win, but the Kings still have issues with their power play. It has looked better in the last two games – moving Arthur Kaliyev into Alex Iafallo’s spot has had a positive impact – but they couldn’t find the net in Game 4. While it’s great to see Kaliyev on the top unit, and a clear plan to feed him pucks, it doesn’t make sense to have him in the bumper spot. If your plan is to give him one-timer opportunities, he needs to swap spots with Adrian Kempe, who’s playing on his one-timer side.
Kaliyev has the best shot on the Kings, and they need to start utilizing it. As I’ve said before, it’s unlikely the team will develop an excellent power play this late in the season but taking advantage of their players’ best attributes is a safe way to improve the power play.
Lineup Changes Work Well
After two big losses, most people expected head coach Todd McLellan to change his lineup in Game 4, and he did exactly that. Carl Grundstrom returned after missing Game 3 because of injury, and Troy Stecher returned to the blue line, with Andreas Athanasiou and Jordan Spence scratched. Grundstrom was promoted to the second line, replacing Alex Iafallo, who was back on the first line with Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe. Stecher played a solid game, grabbing a goal after his shot was deflected in off Oilers defenseman Duncan Keith. He was steady on the back end and looked comfortable next to a familiar partner in Alex Edler.
Related: Kings Can Take Positives From Game 3 Shellacking by the Oilers
The star addition was Grundstrom, though, who finished the game with two goals and an assist. His impact was felt immediately; he won a board battle that led directly to the team’s first goal. He continued to play a solid game throughout, with his heavy, north-south brand of hockey, which is highly effective in the playoffs.
However, it was in the third period that he stamped his mark on the game. He scored a wonderful goal, bulldozing his way to the net, throwing Darnell Nurse to the ground before sliding into the net and finishing. It was a true power-forward goal and the kind of play you need to be successful in the postseason. A pending restricted free agent this summer, Grundstrom is playing for his future and could play himself into a contract with performances like that one.
The other substantial change was putting Iafallo back on the top line. I was disappointed by the move at first, as the top-line has struggled to find offense in this series and looked terrible with him on their line during the regular season. I felt better about the decision after HockeyRoyalty’s Russell Morgan pointed out that this was likely a defensive move, not an offensive one. While the Kings did keep the Oilers’ top-six off the scoresheet, the line played bend-don’t-break defense, getting dominated analytically. I imagine McLellan will stick with this lineup for Game 5, and hopefully, they will be successful again.
Jonathan Quick Steals the Show
By far, the top performer for either team was Jonathan Quick. He finished the game with a 31-save shutout and 3.35 goals saved above expected. He was stellar all night, picking up his 10th career postseason shutout, the most playoff shutouts of any U.S.-born goaltender in NHL history. Some fans wanted McLellan to start Cal Petersen after Quick was pulled in Game 3, but he stuck with the veteran and it paid off. In his post-game press conference, McLellan mentioned the importance of having someone who’s been in this situation before, and Quick proved once again why he has a reputation as an excellent playoff performer.
I only briefly mentioned Quick in regards to the improved penalty kill, but having your goalie be your best penalty-killer is always a huge boost. A big difference between the penalty kill in this game and the previous three was Quick’s ability to shut the door. He was playing his patented aggressive style, cutting down shooting angles and smothering rebounds before the Oilers could cash in on a second or third opportunity. If the Kings win this series, it will be off the back of more stellar performances like this from Quick, and we know he’s capable of producing them.
Kings Given Life With Game 4 Win
The Kings were only down 2-1 after Game 3, but after big losses in Games 2 and 3, it seemed like the series was slipping away from them. Having tied it at 2-2 and dominating Game 4, the series looks wide open, and the team should have confidence heading into Game 5. It’s still an uphill battle, as the Oilers have home-ice advantage, but the Kings have battled through adversity all season and can do it again in the postseason.