Leon Draisaitl

How’d That Happen?

After one period of play on Wednesday night, it appeared that  the LA Kings might  just reprise their  victory of  Game 1 and go home to Cali on Friday night  with a  2-0 series lead. This on the  strength of  two  near goals early and  hard physical play throughout  the twenty minutes.

By the end of the  night, they had  one of the more egregious losses in team playoff history, being on the bad end of a 6-0 score with  rejuvenated Jonathan Quick, who carried them to victory on strong play Monday night, allowing all of the goals.

Though such a loss is not without precedent amongst their  fellow  playoff contenders in this high-scoring year, the  result was certainly disconcerting, especially  since it wasn’t easy to  pin on any one factor. The Oilers outshot (36-30) and outhit (barely, 48-46) the California kids, but it wasn’t like any of the goals were particularly chargeable to Quick. In fact, they were almost to a tally perfect snipes from the right faceoff dot that went over Quick’s shrugged shoulders.

One obvious  difference was the Oilers’ PP, which scored on two of its four chances, while the Kings’ power play unit went nil for four.

It might  have been the dispiriting first  frame, where the Kings  had  two near-goals  not go their way. One trickled between Mike Smith’s legs and rolled to the goal line only to be scooped by Darnell Nurse. Another was a backhand that went up  and over the goalie and clanged off the corner between crossbar and post. Had the  LA team been up by one—a bad one like the first shaped up to be—Smith might have been rattled. Had they been up  by two, then the  Oilers’ relentless pounding of them might have simply slowed the game down and disadvantaged the home team.

As it was, Edmonton allowed less than a  minute and a half to elapse in period two before scoring the eventual winning goal. This on the PP by Leon Draisaitl.

But that’s rushing a head, seduced by the  goals. Let’s not miss this: in period one, the Kings had a power play on a Connor McDavid boarding penalty. On the PK, Smith came up  big  with a low blocker save, and  right  after it, he made a save with his body on  another  dangerous chance. LA had another man advantage shortly after, and again, Smith  battled. The second PP ended with the Kings ahead in shots, 11-6. The Oilers, to this point, had barely been heard from, on the  offense.

They had continued the pounding of the opponent, though. Edler was hit, then Iafallo by Nurse. Zack Kassian had been mixed up in the rough stuff, as he would be, and jawed with Brendan  Lemieux from bench to bench. Nothing came of that. Kassian ended his period with a thunderous hit on Sean Durzi.

OK, now on to period two. The Oilers scored early, as was said. They got two more, shorthanded first and at even strength later. But wait. Why was their first goal on the  PP? Because Smith had taken a backwards swan-spread-eagle dive at the slight contact he felt with Andreas Athanasiou coming to his crease. That put the Oilers on the PP. Arthur Kaliyev took a similarly suspect penalty as an Edmonton player flipped off his back to somehow create the impression of interference. (I don’t have a stake in this—I’m just telling you what I saw.)

The second period ended after Ryan McLeod got his first playoff  goal on a deflection that  Quick waved his arms at but didn’t get the chance to stop. In the last ninety  seconds of the period, to their credit, the  Kings put on a  push, one good chance being a puck out of the corner from  Kopitar to Durzi on which Smith got down low to make the save.  By the end of period two, the shots were reversed from what they had been after the first twenty minutes, 31-23 for Edmonton.

Period three made things look perhaps so much worse than they were. Two goals by Kane (numbers four and six for the  team, with the latter being on the power play  again) and one by Puljujarvi put the thing way on ice.

Was this a steady dismantling? Todd McLellan said after, “Sometimes you tip your hat to the opposition. They played  a really good game.”

He would later say that the  Kings had passed the puck as badly as he had seen in a long time, and that they needed to “play with a  bit of pace. Your pace comes through in your passing.” He  elaborated on  that to say  that “you’re slow when you’re passing’s poor. It allows them to get into position. . . . When we’re playing well, we can put two or three passes together, and we can move it. We didn’t see  much  of that tonight.”

Does the drubbing predict anything?

Again McLellan: “That’s called experience tonight. Some guys had their eyes opened up as to what playoffs are about. Some guys were reminded what playoffs are about. And it happens in series. It happens more often than you think.”

He  added a zinger later, saying, “But we’re not just here to gain experience. We’re trying to win this thing.”

“We can play better than that. We know that”  was his  pointed summary.

 

Notes

McLellan said the Kings’ power play needs to be better, but that it can’t be reinvented on the plane home. They just need to execute.

Brian Kennedy is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association