3 Takeaways From Oilers’ Win in L.A. to Remain Unbeaten With Woodcroft

The Edmonton Oilers are now 3-0 with new head coach Jay Woodcroft, following a 5-2 victory over the host Los Angeles Kings 5-2 at Crypto.com Arena on Tuesday (Feb. 15).

Edmonton’s third straight win since making a change behind the bench last week was a case of the pupil defeating the master: Woodcroft spent a decade serving as an assistant to current Kings head coach Todd McLellan, from 2008-2015 with the San Jose Sharks and 2015-2018 in Edmonton.

Related Link: Oilers’ New Coach Woodcroft Could Be Legacy of McLellan’s Tenure

Woodcroft joins his predecessor Dave Tippett as the only head coaches in Oilers’ history to win their first three games. Tippett, who was fired and replaced by Woodcroft last Thursday (Feb. 10), started 5-0 in 2019-20.

Edmonton got 30 stops from netminder Mike Smith. At the same time, forwards Zach Hyman, Evander Kane, Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Kailer Yamamoto scored for the Oilers. They continue to look like a vastly improved team under Woodcroft’s stewardship. Here are three takeaways from Edmonton’s third win in a row.

Second Consecutive Strong Start From Smith

Less than a week ago, the talk in Edmonton was whether Smith, who turns 40 next month, had anything left in the tank. Making his return after missing a month with a partially torn tendon in his thumb, Smith struggled in Edmonton’s back-to-back losses at Rogers Place that led to Tippett’s dismissal.

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers
Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Smith was beaten four times each by the Vegas Golden Knights last Tuesday (Feb. 8) and the Chicago Blackhawks last Wednesday (Feb. 9), leaving the veteran goalie with a record of 0-4-1 with a 4.22 goals-against average (GAA) and .872 save percentage (SV%) over his last five starts.

But Smith is now 2-0 in the Woodcroft era, following up on a 37-save performance in Edmonton’s 3-1 defeat of the New York Islanders last Friday (Feb. 11) by delivering another strong performance in his start against Los Angeles.

Though he allowed the opening goal for the sixth time in seven starts, Smith stepped up after Kings forward Alex Kaliyev scored at 16:00 of the first period to give the Kings a 1-0 lead.

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The 39-year-old netminder made several key saves that kept his team within one, allowing the Oilers to draw even on McDavid’s goal with just 2:15 remaining in the second period.  Smith stopped 12 of 13 shots in the third period when Edmonton outscored the Kings 4-1.

Aided by some better defensive play in front of him, Smith boasts a 1.50 GAA and .957 SV% over these last two wins. It’s enough to spark hope that if he’s just able to stay healthy, perhaps Smith can recapture his stellar form of last season when he went 21-6-2 with a 2.31 GAA and .923 SV%.

Oilers Getting Depth Scoring

Since Woodcroft took over, Edmonton has totaled 11 goals, with nine different players finding the back of the net. In addition to the five Oilers that scored on Tuesday, Cody Ceci, Warren Foegele, Darnell Nurse, and Jesse Puljujarvi also have goals for Edmonton in this three-game span.

Eleven Oilers recorded at least one point against the Kings. The production was particularly pronounced up front, with only two Oilers forwards failing to register a point, one of whom (Devin Shore) logged just 2:27 of ice time.

McDavid (two goals, three assists) is the only player with more than three points total over Edmonton’s last three games. After the captain, there’s a nine-way tie for second place with two points apiece in the Woodcroft era.

Getting contributions from up and down the lineup is essential for the Oilers; if the last couple of years has shown anything, it’s that the brilliance of Leon Draisaitl and McDavid can drag Edmonton only so far, and that’s not nearly far enough.

And while this recent surge of depth scoring can be dismissed occurring over a small sample size, it may not be merely coincidental: Woodcroft is shifting players regularly and keeping lines and pairings intact from one game to the next. So far, the Oilers seem to be responding well to this consistency, which was not a staple of Tippett’s tenure.

Oilers’ Power-Play Problems Continue

One area of Edmonton’s game that hasn’t improved under Woodcroft is the power-play, as the Oilers are 1/11 with the man-advantage over the last three games.

On Tuesday, Edmonton went 0/4 on the power-play for a second straight game and failed to score during a four-minute man-advantage resulting from a double-minor.

The Oilers’ once-unstoppable power-play, which was clicking at 50% (15/30) after the season’s first 10 games, has converted in just five of 18 games during the calendar year.

On a positive special teams note, Edmonton’s penalty kill has been much better since the coaching change, going 11/12, including 5/5 against the Kings. Overall this season, Edmonton ranks third in the NHL with a 26.3% success rate on the power play and 20th with a 78.0% penalty kill.

Ducks Up Next

After Tuesday’s win, Edmonton has 55 points to move into a three-way tie with the Kings and Anaheim Ducks for third place in the Pacific Division. As luck would have it, Anaheim is up next on the schedule for the Oilers, who will host the Ducks at Rogers Place on Thursday (Feb. 17).

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