NHL Playoffs: Edmonton Oilers vs. Los Angeles Kings | Round 1, Game 1 | 04/22/2024

By Daniel Nugent-Bowman

Expectations for Edmonton’s last game of the regular season were low. Colorado had a dress rehearsal, having all of their namable players in the line-up except Alex Georgiev. The Oilers had Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman, Evan Bouchard, and Mattias Ekholm as healthy scratches. Even in a nothing game, I’d have been shocked if the Avalanche lost or if our team made it close. Stuart Skinner should not have played. I know Calvin Pickard played the night before, but I would see nothing wrong with playing him two nights in a row or switching those starts between the goalies instead.

So we get Los Angeles in Round 1(sigh)Again. Until the Kings tied their game late and made up for their third-period collapse, it was almost 100% a guarantee that the Oilers would be playing Vegas in the first round. Some feel it would’ve been better to start off with the Golden Knights because some of their key players are just coming back from injured reserve and might feel rusty to start a series. You’d rather play them at their physical weakest than at their physical best, and it’d also be satisfying to get revenge on the team that knocked you out in last year’s Playoffs. At least you have familiarity with L.A. after the last two years of squaring off against them. But from their perspective, the scary thing for us is they have to win eventually. Will Edmonton make it three straight first-round wins against Los Angeles, or will Los Angeles exorcise their first-round demon? Will Skinner prove that last year’s struggles were just rookie year issues, or will Kings Goalie Cam Talbot shine the brightest against the team he helped end a 10 year Playoff drought seven years ago? And how will the new bench bosses react to this rivalry?

The keys to the series are…

All Four Lines: As we expect McDavid to do McDavid things and Draisaitl to be a scoring animal in the Playoffs again, the secondary scoring is something that Edmonton has improved and must continue to improve. Every successful postseason team has bottom 6 heroes, who will be ours. But it’s not just in the scoring department. Derek Ryan was asked a couple of weeks ago about the bottom two lines contributing to the offense. His response was when they draw a penalty that then leads to a powerplay goal, the work that went into drawing the penalty doesn’t get talked about. Of course, we love to see offense the most, but sometimes, we also need to appreciate the little details that don’t appear on stat sheets.

Team Defense: The Oilers allowed 4 or more goals in only 6 of their last 25 games. In those 6 games, as you may be thinking, they lost. This team has slowly but surely been learning that scoring just 3 goals, sometimes two goals, can be enough to win you a hockey game, so long as you are able to shut things down and your goalie can make key saves. This key is about keeping pucks out, but it’s also nice to know that your defense pairings can also put pucks in. Edmonton was tied for 4th in goals scored by defensemen this season with 48. Want to hear a random stat? Since the All-Star break, Cody Ceci had the same number of 5v5 goals as Nikita Kucherov. I must admit I did not see Ceci coming.

Opening Series Voodoo: Since McDavid first donned Oilers gear, they have an abysmal 1-9 record in Game 1s. If you count way back to their trip to the Cup Finals in 2006, it’s a 2-12 record. The last few years have taught me not to read too much into every Playoff game or not be too anxious to start because it’s a long series. A lot, and I mean a lot, can happen in a 7 game series. We enjoy saying “It’s not over till it’s over”, but we don’t actually believe it until we keep seeing it unfold. That being said, it may be nice to have just one good start. It’s good to know that a team has the character to bounce back. But you also want to be in the driver’s seat and take control once in a while.

Stephen Vani

Oilers fan in Toronto. Staying up past my bedtime for Western games since the mid 2000s.

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