Kings: 3 Keys to Defeating the Oilers in Round 1

The Los Angeles Kings have punched their ticket into the first round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2017-18 and will face-off against the Edmonton Oilers. This is the first time the two teams will have played against each other in the postseason since the 1992 Playoffs when Wayne Gretzky was still a member of the Kings. This series is a tough one to predict, but there are a few keys to this series that could lead to a victory.

Kings Need to Keep the Game 5v5

Staying out of the penalty box is always a key to any series, but it is especially important in Round 1 for the Kings. Special teams have been a problem all season, and even though the team’s penalty kill has improved recently, it’s hard to have confidence in them. Even more than the Kings’ penalty kill struggling, the Oilers’ power play is the biggest concern. Yes, the Kings blanked their power play during the regular season, causing them to go 0-10 over four games, but the Oilers’ power play is ticking at 26 percent, which is third-best in the league. Assuming the King’s penalty kill can continue to stifle the Oilers’ power play would be playing with fire and they would likely get burned. If the Kings find themselves in penalty trouble, they could get blown out of the water by stellar Oilers special teams.

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The Kings might have been able to get away with this if their power play was also high-powered, but sitting 27th in the league, converting at just 16.1 percent, they can’t match the Oilers. Fortunately for the Kings, both teams do a great job staying out of the box. The Kings will have to be very careful, though, as superstar Connor McDavid draws the most penalties in the league, with 104 drawn through 80 games played. There are a few defensemen that McDavid can attack on the Kings to draw penalties. If Mikey Andersson is in the lineup, leaving Jacob Moverare a healthy scratch, I would expect McDavid to target Alex Edler. The veteran blueliner has been fantastic this season but is prone to taking stick infraction penalties, especially when dealing with a speedy player. Fortunately, NHL refs notoriously swallow their whistle and call few penalties in the playoffs, something that could save the Kings.

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There is no such thing as stopping McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but staying out of the penalty box is a good way to slow them down. Not only will keeping the game 5v5 help the Kings slow down the two superstars, but it also plays into their game. The Kings have been a stellar even-strength team all season, particularly in their ability to possess the puck. They sit fifth in the league for both Corsi and Fenwick percentage at 5v5 and have let in the eighth fewest goals all season at 5v5. They need this series to be played even strength if they have any hope of beating the Oilers.

Kings Need Depth Scoring

Like special teams, depth scoring has been a problem for the Kings all season. For the most part, the team’s top six have pulled their weight and produced. The only area of weakness has been the lack of a consistent winger opposite of Adrian Kempe on the top line, but it appears Andreas Athanasiou will fill that role. I would expect the Kings to roll with the same bottom six that defeated the Anaheim Ducks on April 23, with Alex Iafallo-Blake Lizotte-Dustin Brown as the third line, and Carl Grundstrom-Quinton Byfield-Arthur Kaliyev as the fourth line. This group played well down the stretch and likely earned their spot for Game 1; at the very least the third line will stay intact. However, they have to produce if the Kings want to win this series. I discussed McDavid and Draisaitl’s impact on the power play, but they will punish you at 5v5 as well. The Kings can’t bet on their top six outgunning the Oilers, meaning the bottom six will have to produce.

Quinton Byfield Los Angeles Kings
Quinton Byfield, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Depth has always been a problem for the Oilers and the Kings have to capitalize on this. I have faith that the third line will produce; they’re an experienced group that plays a very translatable style, but the fourth line is a massive question mark. If they keep the above line together, it will feature three players who have never appeared in an NHL playoff game before, but it will also feature a lot of talent. Byfield and Kaliyev have looked great together recently, with Grundstrom providing the energy and physicality needed to complement them. I wouldn’t expect them to have a big series, but they have to be somewhat productive. If they drop the ball the Kings will be in trouble.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see a short leash for these players, either. With Brendan Lemieux, Gabe Vilardi, Rasmus Kupari, and Lias Andersson all available, it will be easy to replace anyone on that line. I’d expect Lemieux, in particular, to at least see some game time, he plays a “playoff brand” of hockey and the team could benefit from someone with his grit and toughness.

Kings Need to Play Without Fear

Perhaps the biggest advantage the Kings have over the Oilers is the lack of expectation. For the Oilers, they have to win this series. A first-round victory would be the minimum expectation heading into the playoffs, and they will be favorites over the Kings. If the Oilers lose, staff will be fired and players will be traded — that’s how much of a disaster it will be viewed as. The Kings weren’t even expected to make the playoffs, leaving them with zero expectation. This gives them the freedom to play without fear. That doesn’t mean playing carelessly, but it does mean they don’t have to be scared of the puck. This will be especially important for the team’s young players. They don’t have to worry about being run out of town for a bad game or turnover, like what happened to Ethan Bear in Edmonton last season.

Arthur Kaliyev Los Angeles Kings
Arthur Kaliyev, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It also makes them less likely to collapse if things start to go wrong. If the Kings go down 2-0 in the series, panic won’t set in, because there is no expectation. On the flip side, if the Oilers fall down in the series early, they could crumble under the pressure. We saw them fall apart last season, getting swept by the Winnipeg Jets, and while I certainly wouldn’t expect a sweep, there’s no reason to think another collapse isn’t possible. Mentality plays a huge part in the playoffs and the Kings will have the upper hand in this department.

Kings Season is Already a Success

To follow up with the lack of pressure, it’s important to remember that no matter what happens in this series, the Kings’ season has been a massive success. The plan for this season was to turn the page on the rebuild and start to compete in the league again, and that’s exactly what this team has done. There’s very little chance they make a genuine run at the Stanley Cup this season and that’s fine. The team can head into the summer with their heads held high whenever it ends. This team is going to be a problem for the rest of the league as early as next season and the playoff experience afforded to the young players this season will play a massive role in that success. If the Kings hit on these three key points, they might even find themselves in the second round.

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