There’s nothing left but pressure situations for the Edmonton Oilers and that goes even more so tonight when they square off against the Los Angeles Kings for a game that could see our boys pull ahead by a touch in the standings or fall right back into third place.
These last few games of the NHL season are about as stressful as it gets to be a fan, and when you’ve got huge games and a tough schedule to close out the year, the only option is to keep winning. As much as it would be nice if the other teams in the division would do us a favour, it doesn’t seem like anyone we need to lose is all too eager to make that happen and the only answer is to keep winning games. And if the Oilers are going to make that happen, they’ll need to come up with a better 60-minute effort than we got against the Sharks on Tuesday. As much as it was fun to talk about the OT winner and Mike Smith setting McDaddy up with a perfect pass, the reality is that we were pretty lucky to come out of San Jose with two points and I’m hoping that the urgency levels rise against the Kings. Put another way, we can’t be waiting around until the third period for the boys to make a move and it’s going to take more than a 10-minute push at the tail end to extend the winning streak.
Comparing the schedules for these two teams, it doesn’t take long to see that the Oilers have a tougher ride over their last 10 games than the Kings do and that certainly adds another layer of pressure on this final round of the season series. Even though this isn’t a must-win game mathematically, putting the Kings behind us by three points in the standings is an opportunity that the boys need to grab onto, especially since they’re still missing some keys players throughout the lineup. That wasn’t the case when these teams last met. Rather than running the show against a shorthanded opponent, the play went back and forth much more evenly than I would have hoped. The good news is that we have an opportunity for a do-over on that front as the Kings are still very much banged up and I’m hoping that will be enough of an opening for our boys to burst through. By no means am I saying this will be easy — Gord knows the NHL is anything but a gimme league — but I’d strongly suggest that the Oilers have a great chance for a positive result if they come into round four of this season series firing on all cylinders.
Let’s see what the numbers say.
|LAST 10 GAMES||7-2-1||5-3-2|
|EXPECTED GOALS FOR%||52.00||53.10|
Numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick (fancies at 5×5)
Kane – McDavid – Puljujarvi
Hyman – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Brassard – Nugent-Hopkins – Kassian
Foegele – McLeod – Ryan
Nurse – Ceci
Keith – Bouchard
Kulak – Barrie
As much as it was great to win against San Jose, I hope no one in that locker room was overly satisfied with how the game went because it was way too close for my liking. That said, I’m not going to nitpick a win too much but I’m just saying that I’d like to see a little bit more urgency in the boys’ game is all. As for the line combos, all I know for sure is that Smith is getting the start and Draisaitl is supposed to be back in. Outside of that, none of the trios or pairings above are accurate but I’ll jump back in to make the edits.
Iafallo – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Grundstrom – Byfield – Vilardi
Lemieux – Kupari – Kaliyev
Roy – Durzi
Maatta – Spence
Edler – Stecher
The Kings are still down some key pieces in their lineup, but as we saw the last time, being down a few guys doesn’t seem to dampen their spirit or work ethic, and that’s a challenge the Oilers will have to overcome. I don’t know why the Kings are playing like they have nothing to lose, but that’s the way they’re going right now and it will take strong defending, goaltending, and puck choices if we’re going to turn this five-game winning streak into six.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
The last time the Kings had a true, full-team practice may have been trade deadline day on March 21. Now, the entire group has been on the ice for practices between now and then, but there’s a difference between just a practice that everyone is in attendance for and a real practice.
“It’s probably been 10 days, right around the trade deadline,” Todd McLellan said today. “We played eight games in 13 days, there’s not going to be a full practice in that segment. Yesterday was a good practice for half the team, low-minute and injured guys, today was a good, team practice.”
Today, the Kings held the latter – a REAL practice – with an on-ice focus point in preparing for certain details surrounding the Edmonton game tomorrow, as well as a fresh look at special teams. More on that below.
“The nice thing was a full practice today, we haven’t had that in a long time, a good 40 minutes of full-team work,” McLellan said. “Our group needed it, hopefully it pays off, but looking at the schedule, we’re not going to have many of them left, so take advantage of it when we can. It was good that way.”
For today though, it was good to get everyone together for a full-team skate, with McLellan sharing that the team was able to implement a few Edmonton-specific things into today’s skate, taking video learning into practice. Trevor Moore talked about how well Edmonton uses the net in the offensive zone, possessing the puck below the goal line and getting bodies to the front.
While the schedule moving forward is lighter, which could allow for additional opportunities, there’s also the balance between practice time and rest time. We saw what rest can do – the game in Winnipeg as an example – but we also saw what a game after a rest day gone the wrong way can look like, aka the 6-1 loss against Seattle.
Game Day Prediction: The Oilers get a much better effort against the Kings than we got against the Sharks and the result is a massive 4-2 win.
Obvious Game Day Prediction: Two more points for Connor McDavid. Tuck ’em in the bank.
Not-So-Obvious Game Day Prediction: Zack Kassian has his best game in months.
BETTER LAIT THAN NEVER
Leon Draisaitl hitting 50 goals for a second time, Mike Smith shutting up the haters, and the standings are as tight as one could possibly imagine. All this and more on a new episode of Better Lait Than Never. Subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts.