The Oilers are wrapping up their three-game trip through California with a stop in Los Angeles with the last-placed Kings. Here are your game day notes.
1. The Kings have had a horrendous, nightmare season thus far. At the time of me writing this on Saturday afternoon, they’re 7-13-1, and even a win Saturday night against the Canucks wouldn’t drag them out of dead last in the league. They’re on pace to put up 58 points in the standings this year and their current .357 points percentage is on pace to be their fourth-worst in franchise history.
2. It’s a bit surprising how bad the Kings have been this year given this exact group made it to the playoffs last season with 45 wins. They even added Ilya Kovalchuk to the mix to boost their offence and they have a healthy Jeff Carter in their lineup. It hasn’t helped at all though as the Kings sit dead last in the league with 44 goals for, which, through 21 games, is an average of just 2.1 goals-per-game. Not having any depth caught up to them. They leaned heavily on a small group of players last season and those guys haven’t been able to carry the load again this year.
3. A huge key to L.A.’s success last year was the insanely good play of Anze Kopitar. If you look at how Kopitar has performed in recent years, there’s a direct correlation to how the Kings do in the standings. In 2016-17, Kopitar had a down year with 52 points in 76 games and Kings missed the playoffs. In 2017-18, he had probably the best year of his career, posting 92 points in 82 games while also winning the Selke Trophy and the Kings made the playoffs. This year, he has nine points in 20 games and has the worst underlying numbers of his career and the Kings are on pace to miss the playoffs.
4. Kopitar isn’t the only one who has taken a step back from last year to this year. The Kings got a shocking performance out of Dustin Brown who appeared to be washed up five years ago. In 2017-18, Brown managed to put up a career-high 61 points, which was massive in Jeff Carter’s absence. In the previous four seasons, Brown scored 15, 11, 11, and 14 goals, but then he exploded for 28 goals. This year, he has three goals.
5. The Kings’ slow start resulted in John Stevens getting the boot. Stevens replaced Darryl Sutter after the 2016-17 season and led L.A. back to the playoffs in his only full season behind the Kings’ bench. Stevens’ situation was much like Todd McLellan’s here. Stevens was dealt a flawed roster and he ended up being the fall guy. Don’t get me wrong, I do think it was right for the Oilers to shake things up and hire a new head coach, but both McLellan and Stevens were in similar situations set up for failure with the cards they were dealt.
6. One thing the Kings have done well this year has been keeping the puck out of the net. Their blueline is still fairly solid, which is inevitable when you have Drew Doughty playing 28 minutes a game and Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez filling up your top-four. They rank 15th in the league in goals against despite having their top two goalies go down with an injury.
7. Jonathan Quick got hurt after four games. Jack Campbell, a very good backup in his own right, got hurt a couple weeks later. Third-string Peter Budaj got recalled but was hot garbage so fourth-string Calvin Petersen has been given the net. Petersen has played in five games and he’s stopped 141 of 153 shots, which is incredibly impressive for a guy who nobody figured would be in the NHL this year.
8. Speaking of goalies, it looks like Mikko Koskinen is Edmonton’s guy right now. After not playing until Edmonton’s ninth game of the season, Koskinen has played in nine of the Oilers’ last 14 games overall. He’s posted a .914 save percentage for the season and was good enough for the Oilers to win in all three of their important games against the Pacific Division in the past week.
9. Cam Talbot will be given the net Sunday in Los Angeles in what will be a massive game to prove that he can still be the team’s starter. Like I said, it looks like Koskinen is that guy right now, so Talbot needs to have himself a big game. Ken Hitchcock is giving him a chance to succeed, that’s for sure. As I mentioned earlier, there is no team worse team at scoring goals than L.A., so if Talbot lays an egg, Koskinen will likely have the net for the foreseeable future. Talbot has lost each of his last five outings, posting an .845 save percentage over that span. His last win came nearly a month ago with a 31-save performance in Chicago.
10. Jesse Puljujarvi is back with the Oilers after putting up two goals and four points in four games with AHL Bakersfield. I don’t know if this move is because he proved he was playing well enough in the AHL or because they need another body to flesh out their NHL roster. Cooper Marody went back down, which is good, given he was playing five minutes a night, but Puljujarvi is slotting in on the fourth line right now with Patrick Russell or Ty Rattie on the other wing. At a glance, that doesn’t look like a good thing, but this line, which is currently centred by JJ Khaira, will be the one Connor McDavid double shifts with throughout the game.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 11/25/2018 – 7:00 am MT