After a longer-than-usual regular season, due to COVID delays, cancelled Olympics and a season that witnessed a record-breaking 1,123 players suit up for at least one regular season game — finally the 2022 NHL playoffs have arrived.
And I suspect the wait will be worth it for players and fans. With buildings back to full capacity across the NHL, the energy and emotion the fans provide players will only add to the usual heightened intensity of the NHL playoffs.
Bring. It. On.
— The Los Angeles Kings haven’t won a playoff series since hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2014. They are 1-8 in their last nine playoffs games. The Edmonton Oilers haven’t won a playoff series since 2017 and are 1-7 in their last two series. One team will end its slump in the next two weeks, and the Edmonton Oilers are the favourite.
— Since Jay Woodcroft took over the Oilers have the second best record in the NHL, 26-9-3, trailing only the 26-8-1 Florida Panthers. Edmonton has the fifth-best offence, 3.82 GF/GP and are tied with Colorado for the fifth stingiest defence allowing 2.78 goals/game. It has not been a 38-game mirage. The Oilers are good and with Darnell Nurse expected to play tonight, and Drew Doughty not in the Kings lineup, the Oilers are the better team across the board. Now they just have to show it.
— The Oilers contributed heavily to their playoff series loss to the Winnipeg Jets last season. The Jets played well, but the Oilers had too many unforced errors that led directly to goals. This is a very different group this season, but many of their core players remain in Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse, and Mike Smith. I sense they feel they wasted an opportunity last year, and I don’t expect them to do the same now.
— The rest of the roster is very different. Evander Kane, Zach Hyman, Warren Foegele and Derek Ryan are newcomers in the top nine. Cody Ceci, Duncan Keith and Brett Kulak offer more experience and poise on the backend. Kailer Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi, Ryan McLeod and Evan Bouchard are a year older and have each taken significant strides in their personal play. Last year is in the past, but the core players learned from it and I don’t expect the Oilers to beat themselves in this matchup.
— Edmonton went 3-1 v. the Kings in the regular season and all three wins came in the previous 38 games with Woodcroft and Dave Manson running the bench. Drew Doughty didn’t play in any of the games for the LA. The Kings struggled this season against the other seven western conference playoff teams.
The Kings only won six of 22 games. They went 8-6-2 v. the eight Eastern conference playoff teams. So they were 14-20-4 in 38 games against playoff teams and 30-7-7 against non-playoff teams.
The Oilers were 8-8 v. the East playoff teams, and 20-17-2 against all playoff teams and 29-10-4 v. non-playoff teams. The Oilers were much more competitive and successful against good teams than the Kings were this season.
— Here is how the eight West teams fared against all playoff teams and non-playoff teams this season.
TEAM V. Playoff V. Non Playoff
COL 23-12-4 33-7-3
STL 22-11-6 27-11-5
MIN 22-13-4 31-9-3
CGY 20-11-7 30-10-4
EDM 20-17-2 29-10-4
DAL 20-17-2 26-13-4
NSH 18-18-5 27-12-2
LA 14-20-4 30-7-7
— The Oilers went 11-7-2 v. playoff teams under Woodcroft and 15-2-1 against non-playoff teams. Under Tippett they were 9-6 v. playoff teams and 14-8-3 v. non-playoff teams.
—Here is how the Oilers and Kings fared offensively, defensively and on special teams.
The Oilers are top-10 in 11 offensive categories while the Kings are top-10 in 12 defensive categories. Can the Kings’ defence slow down the Oilers’ offence? Over the entire season the Oilers’ defensive numbers are below average, but since Woodcroft and Manson took over the Oilers have become a very good defensive team.
— They are tied with Colorado for fifth lowest GA/GP at 2.76. Their PK is eighth in that span. The Oilers are tied for sixth in 5×5 goals against/game at 1.92. Their defensive play has improved significantly.
— Goaltending often plays a big role in a playoff series. Here is a look at Mike Smith v. Jonathon Quick this season.
Smith has the advantage in most categories. I’d guess many Oilers fans would be surprised to see Smith was ranked eighth in goals saved above expected. Too many still can’t seem to accept that the five-game stretch between December 29th to February 9th, was the outlier for Smith’s play the past two seasons. In these past two seasons, Smith has a combined .919Sv%. Of the 39 goalies who started at least 50 games the past two years, Smith is sixth in Sv% and 11th in GAA at 2.54. The five bad games during December to early February dropped his Sv% from .924 to .919. Smith’s overall play when he’s been in the net has been excellent.
— The Oilers and Kings haven’t met in the playoffs since 1992. Previous playoff records mean very little, but the previous series wasn’t short on drama. The infamous Miracle on Manchester in 1982 saw the plucky Kings upset the heavy favourite Oilers 3-2 in their five-game series. The Oilers finished with 48 more points than the Kings in 1982, and they blew a 5-0 lead at the start of the third period in game three and lost 6-5 in OT. The Oilers learned from that loss, and this 2022 version of the Oilers are confident they’ve learned from the disappointments of 2020 and 2021 when they lost to Chicago and Winnipeg. Heartache can be a great learning tool, and I sense the Oilers’ core group is ready to show they won’t beat themselves.
— Darnell Nurse practiced yesterday and took part in every drill, including a fast-paced two-on-two battle drill that had him stopping, turning, and battling in small spaces. He looked fine, and unless he suffered a setback overnight I expect Nurse to be in the lineup tonight. I could see Woodcroft opting for 11 forwards and seven D-men tonight, if they want to be sure Nurse is okay, but in their last two meetings against the Kings, they did dress 12-6.
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