Many pundits and analysts are discussing the advantages and disadvantages as first-round matchups are set, and Kevin Weekes did just that on NHL Network about the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings series. The first round has been set for a few days now, and after a big stumble in the middle of the season, the Oilers surged back under head coach Jay Woodcroft, and solidified home ice in the first round.
Explore everything hockey with THW’s Hockeypedia pages.
Say what you want about the issues on defence with regard to injuries, the Oilers have the better forward group. The focus here, though, is the goaltending and Kevin’s remarks that the Kings, with Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen, have the upper hand on the Oilers’ netminders after what they’ve been able to do over the past two months.
Weekes Has a Very Bad Take on Kings’ Goaltenders
To lead things off, Weekes says that Quick is clutch. I’m not going to disagree with that, but the last time he was even able to play meaningful games in the playoffs was 2017-18, when they got swept by the Vegas Golden Knights. That series loss was in no way Quick’s fault, as he had just three goals of support and allowed just seven goals. A clutch performance would’ve been to win the Kings a game or two at the very least.
Since Quick and the Kings won their second Stanley Cup in 2014, they had only made the playoffs one other time before 2017-18. That was during the 2015-16 season when the San Jose Sharks knocked them out in five games. Quick had a .886 save percentage (SV%) in that series. Not very clutch.
Weekes is holding onto a version of Quick that we haven’t seen in a long time with no real evidence to show us otherwise. Sure, he has played very well at times this season, but overall, he sports a .910 SV% and only 3.3 goals saved above average (GSAA). The team has relied heavily on him at times, but the ups and downs show the holes in the rest of the lineup.
What was said about Petersen may have been even more wrong, as Weekes states that Petersen has been outstanding as well. First, I wouldn’t say Quick has been outstanding by the numbers he has, but calling Petersen’s season outstanding is way off the mark. He has a .895 SV% this season and a minus-11.9 GSAA. Sure, he has three shutouts, but those came against the Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, and Sharks.
Weekes could have completely been correct in his assessment going into the season or halfway through, but the numbers have completely turned in favour of the Oilers, and both of their goaltenders seem to have the advantage in this one.
Rightful Praise Is Shown for Mike Smith
Not everything Weekes, a former goaltender, said about the goaltending matchup in the series was wrong. He did give credit to Mike Smith for his puck handling ability and the stretch he has been on since turning 40.
Smith is the best puck handler amongst all goalies in the NHL and sometimes acts as a third defenceman with how he plays the puck and sets it up for his defencemen. A perfect example is a play that should still be fresh in fans’ minds from the overtime in San Jose, where he sent Connor McDavid a stretch pass that led to the victory.
Weekes references Smith’s puck handling ability and great play as of late to say that makes this goaltending matchup much closer than people think on paper. If you’re looking at the paper, Smith has raised his SV% above both of the Kings’ goalies to a .915 with the incredible stretch run he’s been on. Funny enough, the California road trip that the Oilers swept was the start of Smith’s great play and included a 3-2 win over the Kings.
Smith has won 10 consecutive starts, which also lines up with the date he turned 40 years old. He has also won nine straight decisions after losing in a relief effort vs. the Calgary Flames. Over his nine-game winning streak, he has two shutouts and has allowed more than two goals in a game just twice.
Quick Factor? How About Woodcroft Factor
It may have been fair to say Quick is a factor, but he is having his first decent season since 2017-18. He has also only played nine playoff games over the past eight seasons. He may be able to make the big saves, but the Kings have a depleted defence core and a number of rookies and young players. I don’t think it will be enough, and he isn’t at the level he was at between 2010-18. A stat to keep in mind is Smith has a .931 SV% in the playoffs across games with four different teams, while Quick has a career .922 SV%, all with the Kings.
Smith hasn’t been the sole factor in the Oilers’ turnaround. Since Woodcroft was hired, the team has played much better team defence. It helps that he brought with him assistant coach Dave Manson, who is a former NHL defenceman who played tough. This style of play has rubbed off on the Oilers’ defence, as they’ve allowed fewer high-quality chances against, benefiting not only Smith but Mikko Koskinen too.
You may also like:
- Oilers News & Rumors: McDavid, Draisaitl, Plans for Game 4
- Oilers Need to Refocus Before Series vs. Kings Slips Away
- Oilers Can’t Blame Game 3 Loss on Overtime Missed Call
- Should McDavid Get the Benefit of the Doubt From NHL Officials?
- 3 Takeaways from Kings 3-2 Game 3 Overtime Win
It’s also a combination of factors since Woodcroft’s promotion that the penalty kill has been near perfect over the past 10-plus games. The right positioning and pressure can take the chances away from opponents when they have the man advantage, thus elevating the goaltenders even more. But the most important penalty killer is always the goalie, as many have said over the years (from ‘Player grades, Games 71-80: McDavid, Smith, team structure power Oilers’ drive into playoffs’, Edmonton Journal, April 28, 2022).
Related: 3 Oilers Who Can Hit Impressive Milestones in Final 2 Games
The forwards on the team also hustle back and allow for fewer odd-man rushes, which are never good for the goaltender. It took Smith some time to get to an elite level after returning from injury his last time, so this is what the Oilers should expect as long as his health holds up. Smith did it last season when healthy, and he’s doing it again.