The Los Angeles Kings shocked the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1, winning 4-3 after Phillip Danault’s late go-ahead goal. The Kings have been defying expectations all season and did so once again on Monday with a solid performance. Here are three takeaways from the game.
Kings Dominate at 5v5
Keeping the series at even strength proved crucial in Game 1 as the Kings outscored the Oilers 4-1 at even strength but were outscored 3-0 on special teams. The Oilers also had 4.22 expected goals to the Kings’ 2.61 in all situations, but at 5v5, the Kings win out with 2.36 expected goals vs. the Oilers’ 1.85. The Kings have been a dominant even-strength team all season, and so far, that hasn’t changed. A big reason for this is their ability to match up with Edmonton’s big two. Kings’ head coach Todd McLellan relied heavily on his top two centers, with Anze Kopitar playing 25 minutes and Danault 22.
These matchups will be important all series. For the most part, Kopitar matched up against Connor McDavid, while Danault matched up against Leon Draisaitl. The two Oilers stars only scored one goal at even strength; a stellar solo effort by McDavid when he got on the ice against the Kings’ third line. McLellan was also clever with his usage of the Danault line, utilizing them very effectively, which I’ll touch on later.
Related: Kings: 3 Keys to Defeating the Oilers in Round 1
Monday was a reminder of how elite Kopitar is defensively, playing against the best player in hockey for most of the night. They finished with a 73.9 expected goals percentage, a 57.1 Corsi for percentage, and a 64.3 Fenwick percentage. His 25:41 of ice time also led all skaters in the game. It’s easy to forget how incredible Kopitar is in the playoffs since we haven’t seen him play a postseason game in five seasons, but Monday was a reminder, especially for the Oilers.
The Kings played the game perfectly at 5v5, clogging the middle and not allowing the Oilers to pick up speed through the neutral zone and attack the Kings with speed. This was especially effective against McDavid, as the few times they couldn’t clog the middle, he got a chance and scored once.
The Kings were also exceptional on the forecheck. Taking time and space away from the Oilers’ blue line is huge, as puck-moving is their weakness. According to AllThreeZones tracking data, Darnell Nurse and Evan Bouchard are Edmonton’s only defensemen who can create zone exits at a rate above the league average. Taking advantage of this weakness was huge in Game 1 and will continue to be a factor throughout the series. If Game 1 is any indication of the rest of this series, the Kings have a real chance at stunning the Oilers if they can keep playing at 5v5.
Jonathan Quick in Playoff Form
Historically, Jonathan Quick has been an incredible performer in the playoffs, and it appears this year will be no different. Quick stopped 36 of 39 shots and finished with 1.22 goals above expected. As always, it was more about the kind of saves and the timing of these saves than anything else. He managed the big saves when the team needed him most, giving the team confidence in their netminder. Trying to slow down McDavid and Draisaitl, goaltending will always be key, and Quick produced big saves on both stars.
More importantly, Quick beat out his opponent, Edmonton’s Mike Smith. Sometimes you don’t need your goalie to be incredible; you just need them to be better than the goalie across the ice. Fortunately, the Kings got both from Quick on Monday: big saves, no mistakes, and his usual elevated postseason play that gives the team a genuine game-changer in net if he can keep it up.
Danault Line Dominates
With Viktor Arvidsson out of the lineup due to personal reasons, Alex Iafallo stepped in to replace him on Danault’s line. Iafallo proved to be more than capable, grabbing a goal, an assist, and a plus-three rating on the night. This line was key for the Kings, matching up with Draisaitl for most of the night, but they were also deployed more aggressively at times. Of their three goals, two came while they were on the ice against the Oilers’ third line, and one came against Draisaitl’s line. They played a perfect game, beating out the Draisaitl line while also taking advantage of the Oilers’ bottom six.
All three players were at the top of their game, with noted Thousand Oaks native Trevor Moore being the best player on either team. Yes, Moore was better than McDavid and Draisaitl on Monday, a statement no one would have expected. Moore continues to take advantage of the opportunities he’s given, proving to be a true top-six forward in the NHL. He opened the scoring in this series, had a highlight-reel assist on Iafallo’s goal, and forced a crucial turnover for the eventual game-winner. It was a stellar game for him and one that announced him to the hockey world.
Of course, Danault was a dominant force once again, with a goal and an assist, including the game-winning goal. It was a typical Danault game, winning faceoffs, shutting down superstars in Draisaitl and McDavid, and picking up points in the dirty areas. His excellent performance shouldn’t surprise anyone, as his play was a key factor in the Montreal Canadien’s run to the Cup last season.
While McDavid and Draisaitl understandably received most of the attention before this series, Danault and Kopitar are proving that the Kings’ one-two punch up the middle might be the story of this series. Danault’s line finished with an incredible 81.4 expected goals percentage, 62.1 Corsi percentage, 68.4 Fenwick percentage, and a plus-three. The Oilers have to find an answer for this line, or they could be hitting the golf course early again, especially when the series comes to Crypto.com Arena, where McLellan will have more control over his matchups.
Kings Need to Take the Series One Game at a Time
While it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of an excellent victory, it’s important for the Kings not to get ahead of themselves. There are still concerns. Danault and Kopitar were incredible, playing a combined 48:16, with Blake Lizotte and Quinton Byfield only playing a combined 17:14. There have to be questions over how sustainable it is to rely so heavily on your top two centers, as fatigue could kick in late in the series. Yes, the frequent penalties had an effect, but they played a combined 32:54 at even strength too.
Speaking of penalties, the Kings need to do a better job of staying out of the box. Yes, the reffing was questionable at times, but it’s never an excuse. If the Kings want to win this series, they’ll have to be more disciplined moving forward, as they saw how dangerous the Oilers’ power play is. You also don’t want to rely too heavily on a goalie stealing games, even if that goalie is Quick This isn’t an attempt to dampen the excitement. Fans should be excited, and the Kings now have a blueprint of how to win this series. But it’s important to take this series one game at a time; don’t let the highs be too high or the lows too low.