The LA Kings had debuted ten players to the playoffs by the time the puck dropped for their Friday evening contest at home versus the Oilers. Before the game was over, “make that eleven” was the lament. Why? Because Jonathan Quick got yanked after allowing four goals. His replacement, Cal Petersen, was little better, as he eventually allowed four as well in an 8-2 loss.
It was every bit as bad as it looks by the score. The Kings actually played a pretty good first period, a rough and tumble twenty minutes that saw them down early and behind by two goals at the end.
In the middle period, things brightened, despite their three-goal deficit. This because, while the Oilers scored three more goals to open the game to 5-0, the Kings responded. Their first goal came 16 seconds after the Oilers’ fifth. They put one more past Mike Smith late in the period. The goal scorers were Kopitar and Danault. This is to script.
The third period was just skill, skill, skill as the Oilers repeatedly beat LA to the puck and deftly passed it around beleaguered defenders for tap-in goals. In the end, it was no miracle. It was the Oilers’ depth players putting up the points after the lead players started the game out by getting an early lead. The final tally: A hat trick for Evander Kane. Two goals for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Two for Zach Hyman. Multiple points for a handful of other players.
So what was the reason that LA couldn’t do more to pull the game out and give themselves a chance in the series, which is now all but lost (let’s be real)?
One: almost every goal scored by the Oilers was the result of an individual play, an Oiler beating a King to the puck and going in more or less unbothered on the goalie—whichever goalie it was.
Two: the power play of the Kings came through, but minimally. Todd McLellan said the other night after their game two loss that they weren’t just going to solve their PP woes on the plane going home to LA. And they didn’t. Their chances were limited to four, and they scored one goal, but that was it.
Three: the defense looks lost. And it should. They’re young, but no matter what their age, they’re not going to see the kind of speed the Oilers feature very often. They just flat got outrun all night.
Four: defense is a team effort, as has been pointed out endlessly when people talk about Kopitar and Danault and their responsibilities to shut down Draisaitl and McDavid. And it starts up the ice. The Kings never controlled the puck long enough to make it hard to get that tandem, playing together much of the night, shut down.
Five: the Oilers have more depth than most people think, and it was on display. Tell the truth, if you’re not an Oilers’ diehard—hadn’t you kind of forgotten Nugent-Hopkins? Who is Ceci? And where’s Hyman been?
So how did it happen? First period, the Kings featured a third line that pounded the Oilers. This was Blake Lizotte with Dustin Brown and Brendan Lemieux. They also jawed and scrummed. Did the Oilers get off their game? No. They scored on a redirection and a tip. The first was four-on-four and the second on the power play. On the latter, McDavid put a puck through an invisible seam right onto Hyman’s stick.
The Kings were outshooting the Oilers at one point in P1, 14-7, but trailing by those two goals.
They had two power plays, and looked pretty organized and aggressive, but the Kings did not produce. Spence had a long shot sneak through a crowd and hit the post. Kopitar ripped a one-timer snap shot. Smith was able to stop it. The period ended 19-7 for the Kings in shots.
Period two was all Oilers early, with three goals coming in just over three minutes to get the game to midway. But the Kings responded, and even despite the big deficit, it seemed like they could come back. The goalies were switched after goal four, and for a while, it seemed like Kopitar was going to carry things. He scored coming out of the corner and sweeping the puck up and over Smith on the backhand. This is the idea—he passes too much normally. But Lizotte killed the spirit a bit by taking a slashing penalty shortly later. Then the Oilers took one, and there was Kopitar, again, passing the puck around the perimeter. Frustrating and obviously a bad idea, given that he’d just scored by driving the net himself.
The third period featured three further goals by Edmonton. It would have been more but for an early post by McDavid on a partial breakaway.
Again, the goals were all skill, rushing, and Kings’ players bent over their sticks, reaching for the guys they were supposed to be defending. Goal six—Nugent-Hopkins just wouldn’t give up the puck with two Kings on him. He burst in and shot low. Goal seven—Archibald to Nugent-Hopkins on a rush where he did a nifty spin and Nugent-Hopkins redirected his pass and put the puck in the net. Goal eight—Nugent-Hopkins puts a seam pass across to Kane, who chips it over Petersen. On each of these, Kings players were standing around or chasing their checks.
After, Coach McLellan was pretty pointed: “We can do this really quick tonight. I can summize [sic] it all for you and we can all go home. We weren’t any good. We’re really disappointed. We got trapped playing their game. You can ask me about individuals, I’ll give you the same answer for all of them—they weren’t any good. We have to regroup tomorrow.” And voila—finis!
These two squads take to the ice again on Sunday night.
Brian Kennedy is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association