For all of the euphoria surrounding the Edmonton Oilers’ offensive outburst in their first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings, questions still remain about the defensive side of the equation. Sure, it’s one thing to outscore a Kings team that finished over 50 goals behind the Oilers in the regular season. However, if the Oilers are to get past the Kings and meet a higher-powered offensive team such as the Calgary Flames or Colorado Avalanche further on in the playoffs, they have to tighten up defensively.
In the two recent blowout wins of 6-0 and 8-2 in Games 2 and 3 against the Kings, the Oilers faced 76 shots on goal from the LA squad. That’s an average of 35 shots per game, and as the old saying goes, “defence wins championships.” Veteran rearguard Duncan Keith addressed the issue early on in the Oilers’ Game 1 loss mentioning that the team needed to tighten up defensively.
Keith knows what it takes to win. After all, he is a former Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe Trophy winner with the Chicago Blackhawks. Keith is having a pretty good series against the Kings so far. Even though he’s not as fast as he once was, he’s still showing a lot of the young bucks how it gets done. But Keith and all of the Oilers’ defensive core (including the forwards) do need to reduce the number of shots on their own goal.
An Offensive Force Not Seen Since the Days of Gretzky and Messier
If there’s one thing that’s truly obvious during the first part of the series with the Kings, it’s that the Oilers definitely have the firepower to win in the playoffs. Like the freewheeling days of the ’80s when Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, and company were offensively overpowering the league, the 2021-22 version of the Oilers looks eerily similar.
Evander Kane, fresh off a Game 3 hat trick, is sitting tied on top of the playoff scoring race with none other than Oilers captain Connor McDavid. Both have six points in three games, and young Evan Bouchard, who is just a point behind them, is also currently tied for fourth in the playoff scoring race with five points. Not bad.
Can Oilers Mike Smith Continue His Solid Play?
You have to wonder how Mike Smith and his 40-year-old body are holding up after facing 111 shots in the first three games against the Kings. People close to Smith say he’s a fitness freak, and so far, you can tell that he doesn’t have any lingering effects of the injuries that plagued him all season. Facing an average of 35 shots per game is a tall order for any goalie in the playoffs, let alone one who just turned 40, but if there’s a guy who can defy the odds, you have to believe it’s Smith.
Despite his Game 1 gaffe on Phillip Danault’s winning goal in the King’s 4-3 victory, Smith has looked sharp. In fact, he’s outplayed his younger counterpart in the Kings’ net, Jonathan Quick, who was pulled after giving up four goals in the Oilers’ Game 3 victory. If Smith can continue to turn back the clock, and the Oilers can tighten up in their own zone, anything is possible for a team that looks like they’re starting to believe.
McDavid & Draisaitl’s Time Might Finally Be Here
It’s early in the 2022 playoffs, but something special seems to be happening with the Oilers. Could this be the playoff year that McDavid and Leon Draisaitl finally break through? The celebrated duo would like nothing more than to taste more playoff success and eventually win the Stanley Cup.
There’s a feeling they might be one step closer to their goal this season. The Oilers’ chances are looking better with every game, and it appears general manager Ken Holland might’ve made the right moves to build a legitimate team. But before anyone starts planning a parade, there’s still a lot of hockey to be played, including in the current series with the Los Angeles Kings. However, like the spring season, signs of hope are sprouting up all over. If head coach Jay Woodcroft and assistant coach Dave Manson can tweak things in the defensive zone, and the team can reduce the number of shots on goal, there’s no telling how far the Oilers can go. It’s been an entertaining ride so far, one that Oilers fans hope continues well into the summer.
D. Edward Bochon covers the Edmonton Oilers. His background is in marketing writing where he worked with the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Football Club (now known as the Elks), and the Edmonton Rush of the NLL.