“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” – Helen Keller
If it takes adversity to reveal the true heart of a champion, then the Edmonton Oilers are exactly in the spot they need to be. They can blame the refs or come up with a million excuses as to why they find themselves down 2-1 to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. But they have no one else to blame but themselves.
They’ve let the success of the final month of the regular season get to their heads. They lost their focus and their mojo to a strong Kings team, and they better dig deep pronto or they’ll find themselves on the outside looking in for the remainder of the playoffs.
Penalties are Costing the Oilers
There’s a cure for staying out of the penalty box even if you feel the referees are against you. It’s called playing smart and composed. And unfortunately for Oilers fans, there are only a handful of Oilers players who are keeping their composure through the first three games of the best-of-seven opening-round series. Brett Kulak is one, while Derek Ryan, Warren Foegele and Ryan McLeod are playing well despite a lack of success on the score sheet. Meanwhile, the Oilers’ top-six forward group is sputtering and playing undisciplined. They have to stop letting players like Kings’ defenceman Drew Doughty get into their heads. Easier said than done.
Will Connor McDavid Step Up and Be The Hero Again?
Connor McDavid broke out of a mini-slump in Games 1 and 2 with two huge goals in Game 3. However, he hasn’t single-handedly taken over the series like many expected him to do. Part of the reason is the checking from Phillip Danault and the presence of Doughty on defense. Doughty, who was injured in the first round against the Oilers last season, is back to his old agitating self. But can he keep up the pace?
In the first-round series last year, McDavid took the bull by the horns in Games 6 and 7 and literally willed the Oilers to victory. Will he take over the series this year starting in Game 4? I personally wouldn’t bet against him.
Skinner Getting Better As Series Goes Along
Anytime a goalie can stop a 2-on-0 breakaway, you have to consider that a good night. And, Stuart Skinner gave the Oilers solid goaltending in Game 3, his best of the series so far. He’s looking more composed, and looks like he’s shaken off the jitters from starting the playoffs at home in Games 1 and 2. Right now, it would be fair to say Skinner’s been good, but not quite the equal of Kings goaltender Joonas Korpisalo. The Oilers need Skinner to build on his performance in Game 3 and shut the door the rest of the way.
Were the Oilers Too Comfortable, Over Confident To Start The Playoffs?
When you get to the playoffs at any level of hockey, you have to stop looking back, and keep focused on what’s ahead. Unfortunately, a few Oilers didn’t seem to get that memo. They faced a bit of adversity down the stretch in the regular season, but it wasn’t like they were scratching and clawing to qualify for the postseason.
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Forwards such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Evander Kane and Zach Hyman have to ratchet up their performances as of right now if the Oilers are going to have any chance at all of advancing to the second round. Many times in this series they’ve looked jittery, with the puck bouncing off their sticks – a far cry from how composed and confident they were in the regular season (from ‘Tychkowski: The fear is real, Edmonton Oilers might lose this thing’, Edmonton Journal, 4/22/23).
Maybe it’s the Kings that deserve credit for shutting down the Oilers’ top six? Todd McLellan is an excellent coach, and he’s proving it once again in Round 1. If the Oilers are going to have any chance of winning this series, they need Nugent-Hopkins, Kane and Hyman to really step up their games.
So What Do The Oilers Need To Do In Order To Advance?
I think they need to get away from all of the distractions that the Stanley Cup Playoffs bring and enjoy a bit of team bonding in Southern California. Maybe head down to San Diego or Tijuana and clear out the cobwebs of negativity. Just don’t get into any trouble.
Related: Oilers vs. Kings Would Be An Epic Playoff Matchup
Whatever the Oilers do with their time together in Los Angeles, they need to refocus and remind themselves that their biggest opponent is really themselves. If they can overcome that, then they can overcome the Kings. This is the kind of adversity that can create a champion. If the Oilers can somehow survive the Kings in the first round and advance to the second round, it might be exactly the adversity they needed to take them to the promised land.