Oilers Face Pressure of Coming Back Against Kings

Oh boy, here we go again. The Edmonton Oilers came out of the gate looking nervous and out of sorts against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series. From the get-go, the Oilers looked like they had lost all of their mojo from the final month of the regular season. Their play looked scrambly, and the team was giving up five-star chances to the Kings within minutes of puck drop.

Many fans and some of the media are blaming the 4-3 loss squarely on the shoulders of veteran goaltender Mike Smith. Yes, his giveaway in the final 5 minutes of last night’s game was brutal, but in fairness to Smith, the Oilers should never have been in that position.

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers
Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Oilers captain Connor McDavid looked focused and in fine form. His goal in the final minute of the first period helped give the Oilers life and cut the Kings’ lead to 2-1 going into the second period. Oilers forwards Kailer Yamamoto, Zach Hyman and Ryan McLeod stood out for their intensity and grit, with Yamamoto tallying one goal and an assist to tie McDavid for the team lead in points. Key players like Darnell Nurse and Jesse Puljujärvi didn’t look like themselves, leading to speculation that both are still bothered by late-season injuries.

Oilers Veterans Need to Step up and Lead

McDavid and Leon Draisaitl must feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. However, it’s not a burden they should have to carry alone. Veteran defenceman Duncan Keith was acquired for this moment.

Duncan Keith Edmonton Oilers
Duncan Keith, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Yes, we all know that general manager Ken Holland overpaid for the veteran rearguard; however, now is the time for Keith to leverage his Stanley Cup Playoff experience and try to bring a sense of calm to the Oilers dressing room. The same might also be said of Brett Kulak and Evander Kane, both of whom have also had moderate playoff success in their careers. The biggest issue facing the team isn’t their talent, it’s between their ears. They have now put themselves in a hole against the Kings, and there’s no better time than the present to crank up their game and even up the series.

Related: Mike Smith Does Most “Mike Smith” Thing Ever, Costs Oilers Game 1

The adversity will either make or break the Oilers, and based on past performances – against the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2020 qualifying series and last season’s first-round playoff exit against the Winnipeg Jets – the Oilers need to dig deep and find a way to win. Another first-round loss at the hands of a Kings team whose best defenceman, Drew Doughty, is out of the lineup would be inexcusable.

It’s Make-or-Break Time for the Oilers

It may just be one game, but there’s a sense of panic in Oil Country. You can tell by the Oilers’ Twitter and the sports radio shows. A victory in Game 2 at home against the Kings is almost a must-win. If they drop 2-0 in the series with Games 3 and 4 back in Los Angeles, it would take a playoff miracle for them to turn it around.

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Win Game 2, and the Oilers are back in business. Lose Game 2, and you’ll have an already fragile fanbase on the verge of losing their minds. For the sake of Smith, McDavid, Draisaitl and even Holland, Edmonton needs a victory and an opportunity to even the series, or they will head into the offseason looking at bigger changes than many expect.

Leon Draisaitl Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Is it time to panic? No. Adversity like this will either make or break this edition of the Oilers. For the team’s sake and their long-suffering fans, we have to hope they play sound defence as players step up and play to their potential. Anything less would be unacceptable. There are no more excuses for Edmonton. They have to win now.

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