After shocking the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1, the Los Angeles Kings were unable to replicate their stellar performance in Game 2, falling 6-0. The game looked even through the first period, but two goals in the first six minutes of the second opened the floodgates for the Oilers, who never looked back. Here are three takeaways from the big loss.
Special Teams Kill the Kings
I’ve discussed the Kings’ special teams so much this season that I feel like a broken record, but they played a massive role again on Wednesday. The Kings went 0-4 on the power play, giving up a shorthanded goal in the process, and gave up two power-play goals on four attempts.
Despite blanking the Oilers’ power play during the regular season, the Kings have had no answer for them in Round 1. The Oilers are 4/8 in the series and should be confident they’ll keep scoring at this rate. Now in the playoffs, it seems unlikely that the Kings will find a way to fix their struggling penalty kill, so staying out of the box will be key for the rest of this series. Fans have pointed to questionable officiating in both games, and while there have been some rough calls, you can never use the refs as an excuse.
The penalty kill issues were made worse by the Kings’ complete inability to convert on the power play. They have had eight power-play opportunities in this series, converting on zero of them while giving up a shorthanded goal in Game 2, a killer in that game. The Kings had a perfect opportunity to tie the game at one but fell down 2-0 instead, giving the Oilers the momentum and deflating the Kings. There’s so much to be said about how bad the Kings’ power play is, but I’ll leave it at one word: unacceptable. They will not win this series without significant improvement to their special teams, and it’s time to make changes, specifically on the power play.
Kings Bullied in Game 2
Another thing that was evident in Game 2 was the Oilers’ physical edge over the Kings. The hits were 46 for the Kings and 48 for the Oilers, but no one watching that game would say the Kings came anywhere near matching the Oilers’ physicality. Zack Kassian, in particular, was a menace, laying heavy checks with zero response coming his way.
The Oilers are taking advantage of the Kings’ youth in several ways, and their physical dominance is one of them. It’s hard to see how they will match Edmonton moving forward with their two most physical players, Carl Grundstrom and Brendan Lemieux, already in the lineup. It’s one of the downsides of having two rookies fill out your fourth line with no reserve players over the age of 23 years old to call upon.
After Game 1, and especially after Game 2, I’m surprised to find myself missing Kurtis MacDermid. For all of his faults, he was the ultimate deterrent, and players like Kassian would think twice before taking a run at a Kings player. Having him in Lemieux’s spot would be nice right now, despite that Lemieux is the better overall player. As with the special teams, it’s hard to figure out how the Kings will solve this physicality issue, and they might have to concede this advantage to the Oilers for the rest of the series.
Expect Lineup Changes in Game 3
Hopefully, the first lineup change we see in Game 3 is the return of Viktor Arvidsson, who was out of the lineup for an undisclosed reason, but that seems unlikely at this point. After a game where they struggled and were heavily outplayed by their matchup, I’d expect changes to the Kings’ fourth line as well. Lemieux, Quinton Byfield, and Arthur Kaliyev should feel insecure about their spot in the lineup, as none of them gave head coach Todd McLellan a reason to keep them in for Game 3.
I also expect one of Rasmus Kupari or Gabe Vilardi to come into the lineup, with Lias Andersson as another option. Vilardi, in particular, should feel confident about a return after a stellar end to the regular season, which saw him grab four points in two games.
The other lineup change that seems inevitable is a new right-winger on Anze Kopitar‘s line. In the third period, Andreas Athanasiou swapped with Grundstrom for the rest of the game, indicating that his time on the top-line could be finished. I’d be surprised if Grundstrom retained his spot on that line, and Vilardi should get a big chance on that line. He looked great in the final two games of the season, and the Kings don’t have many options.
It seems unlikely that Trevor Moore is removed from Phillip Danault’s wing, and we know that neither Dustin Brown nor Alex Iafallo is a good fit with Kopitar and Adrian Kempe. This will certainly not happen, but I would love to see it. This would be my preferred lineup for Game 3, assuming Arvidsson isn’t available:
|Adrian Kempe||Anze Kopitar||Gabe Vilardi|
|Trevor Moore||Phillip Danault||Alex Iafallo|
|Andreas Athanasiou||Blake Lizotte||Dustin Brown|
|Carl Grundstrom||Quinton Byfield/Rasmus Kupari||Arthur Kaliyev/Rasmus Kupari|
Kupari’s versatility gives the Kings options, as both Byfield and Kaliyev gave McLellan reasons to scratch them. If he’s really upset with both of them, he could run the same lineup but replace Byfield and Kaliyev with Kupari and Andersson, but that doesn’t seem realistic. The team needs more from their bottom six, and I imagine McLellan will do some major shuffling in an attempt to get things going. There’s the potential for one of these prospects to make a massive impact; someone just has to step up.
Kings Have No Need to Panic
As I said after Game 1, fans and the team have to take this series one game at a time: never letting the highs be too high or the lows too low, and it’s even more true after Game 2. Whether it’s a 1-0 or 6-0 loss, the outcome is still the same, a tied series at 1-1 heading back to Los Angeles, which most people would have taken happily after two games, and it should be no different now. Obviously, Wednesday’s game stings, but it’s over and shouldn’t matter anymore. We will get a real sense of how mentally tough this Kings team is Friday. Will they crumble after an embarrassing defeat or come out swinging in Game 3?
My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan I’m hoping to bring my own unique perspective on the hockey world, specifically covering the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020 I’ve joined The Hockey Writers crew as a columnist for the Kings.