It’s Monday night and the 2023 NHL playoffs begin for the Edmonton Oilers as they get set to play Game 1 versus the Los Angeles Kings. The Oilers and the fans are hyped, with the players having said they feel ready and will use their previous playoff experience as learning lessons heading into this year. The team made it to the Western Conference Final in 2022 and this season, there are more than a few insiders jumping on the Oilers bandwagon, many believing they have as good a chance as any team to win the Stanley Cup.
The Health and Line-Ups for Both Teams
As far as the Oilers go, they are relatively healthy. There are no major injuries of note and none of their top players are nursing nagging issues. There was a moment in Sunday’s practice where Kailer Yamamoto took a puck off the face, but he returned to the ice and looked fine.
A healthy Oilers team is trouble for any opponent. They have the two best offensive weapons in the NHL at full strength, they have a third 100-point guy in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and others who are having career seasons. The Oilers led the league in short-handed goals and their bottom-six forwards all have 10 or more goals this season. This is all with Evander Kane having missed most of the year.
As for the Kings, Tom Gazzola reports, “Gabe Vilardi not on the ice for the Kings. No sign of Kevin Fiala as well. Joonas Korpisalo in the starter’s net.” If Fiala is out to start the series, that’s a big loss for the Kings. Fiala was one of the main contributors to the Kings’ early success over the Oilers this season. He wasn’t in the lineup when Edmonton tilted the regular season series in the favor towards the end of the campaign. Jason Gregor notes, “Vilardi could be a surprise last-minute dress. Teams do odd things in playoffs but Fiala is for sure out. Knee injury.”
What the Oilers and Kings Saying Heading Into the Post-Season
The Oilers like their chances. They should feel confident having ended the season on a 14-0-1 run, along with a nine-game undefeated streak. No team is hotter heading into the playoffs and it appears the Oilers have found a system that works, limiting all opposition to a combined total of six goals in their last seven games.
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Evander Kane said heading into the matchup, “We’ve been looking forward to this day for a little bit now, a couple of weeks. So I think guys are excited, ready to go and looking forward to Monday.”
Meanwhile, the Kings are going to try and get in the grill of certain players, namely Connor McDavid. Daniel Nugent-Bowman of The Athletic tweeted comments from Drew Doughty who said the Kings weren’t happy with Connor McDavid’s hit on Mikey Anderson in the last matchup in Edmonton. He said they haven’t forgotten and don’t want to take needless penalties, but … “If we get a chance to smack him, we’re going to do it.”
Can Skinner Keep His Cool Demeanor Under the Pressure of the Playoffs?
One of the questions being asked around the locker room today was about Stuart Skinner and how confident the team is that he’ll continue to show well as a rookie, even under the pressure that comes with being in the playoffs. Both Cody Ceci and Leon Draisaitl said he’s just a calm, cool, and collected guy. He’s played in big games before and while it’s not necessarily been at this level, everyone will have nerves. There’s no worry in the locker room that he won’t settle in quickly.
If there’s a question mark for the Oilers, it’s their goaltending. Skinner has been fantastic but Jack Campbell hasn’t had the season he would have liked. If Skinner struggles early and lets in a few soft ones, the Oilers will need to come together as a group to play for him and not let a goal or two sink them in Game 1. What the Oilers don’t want is to be forced into a decision about whether they have to go to Campbell, even if he’s got the ability to get hot.