Kings Need Better Starts to Win Series Against Oilers

The Los Angeles Kings head home with the series tied at one game apiece. Both games followed a similar pattern of play. The Kings got dominated in the first period on Monday and Wednesday and needed to fight their way back into the game. They were able to tie both games, but one contest ended up going their way, and the other did not. It’s clear after these two tilts that this is not a sustainable route to success in this series or any potential future rounds of the playoffs. They simply have to play better early on.

Kings’ First Two Periods of Game 1 Lacked Energy

In the first period of Game 1, fans expect the team to come out guns blazing. Everyone was excited for the first game of the postseason after a long regular season and wanted their team to get out to a great start. That’s not what the Kings did at all, and it also wasn’t really part of their game plan. They would rather try to limit the Edmonton Oilers‘ star players and play a reactionary game. This may change as they become the home team and can dictate the matchups better, so their strategy may change.

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

The Kings trailed 2-0 after the first two periods of Game 1, and it wasn’t just on the scoreboard where they were behind. Edmonton was dominating the run of play. They created 16 high-danger chances compared to just six for the Kings. This was especially concerning when you consider that the Oilers spent just 1:54 on the power play, while the Kings had a man-power advantage for 6:33. Instead of using the power play to get back in the game, it really just killed the momentum.

More of the Same in Game 2

The Kings got themselves in a 2-0 hole after the first period once again in Game 2. This time, their offensive effort was even worse. Shot attempts were 26-9 in favor of Edmonton, despite the Kings again having more power play time. LA also only had two scoring chances in that period. They were playing on their heels a bit too much and trying to let the game come to them rather than taking charge.

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“Obviously the start… wasn’t where it needed to be.” Coach Todd McLellan told “The frustrating thing for me is that there were some things that we needed to do early in the game, and we didn’t decide to do them until the second and third periods. It was very similar to Game 1.” 

The series changes venues for Game 3, and that brings a few differences. The Kings will have the home crowd behind them, which should give them more energy early in the game. They also will have the option for the last change, which should help them get the matchups they want. Hopefully, they can use this as a way to generate more offense instead of just trying to slow down the Oilers’ attack.

Playing With the Lead is Key

The Kings won Game 1 but never played with the lead, as they tied the game late and won in overtime. Playing with the lead is obviously different than trailing and more suitable to how the Kings want to play against the Oilers. They can use their defensive structure in the third period to just hold the lead rather than play that way when trying to get back in the game. Giving this Oilers team a head start because you didn’t compete well enough in the first period is not a recipe for success.

Gabriel Vilardi LA Kings
Gabriel Vilardi, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)

One Kings player who definitely can expect to play better early in the game is Gabe Vilardi. He had missed time towards the end of the season, and Game 2 was his first time playing since March 26. “I think just the first period for me, I haven’t played in a month, you come back and it’s 100 miles an hour,” Vilardi said after the game. “For me personally, the first period was really tough, just everything’s happening really fast, but I think I settled in well as the game went on.”

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Vilardi got better as the game went on, as he tied the game at the end of the second period with a goal. He’s a microcosm of the Kings; they are capable of playing with the Oilers but need to control their nerves at the start of the game and generate more offense. Getting shots on goal and traffic in front of the net on the power play would do wonders, as they really struggled to do that early in the first two games.

Leading Was Key to Kings’ Success Last Year

In all three games they won last year in the postseason, the Kings got the lead after the first period. Edmonton did come back and tie two of those contests, but the fact that the Kings actually scored in the first period allowed them to compete with Edmonton’s high-powered offense. Needing a comeback after the first period is a tall task for any team in the playoffs.

The series will definitely change based on how Games 3 and 4 turn out. Being the home team, the Kings need to set the tone early. If they fail to do that in these two games, it’s hard to see how they can advance past this round of the playoffs.

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